I used to wish I could wave a magic wand and conjure clear communication with my ex; it would, I imagined rather wistfully, make co-parenting our adolescent daughters so. much. easier. Ironically, it was the very lack of effective communication that drove a wedge into our 15-year marriage and caused it to fall apart in the first place — leaving us to seethe and jeer at one another from polar perspectives.
In the early days following our separation, a pair of operating systems emerged: ineffective communication, primarily via text message and email, or (when the first approach elicited nothing but sarcastic comments and scathing rebuttals) no communication at all.
That is, until we were court-mandated to use a co-parenting app.
The end of any relationship can be fraught with tension and miscommunication, stemming from the fact that communication problems trump sexual infidelity as the number-one reason marriages fail. It stands to reason that establishing clear and effective communication in the midst of separation and divorce can feel like a Herculean task — especially when children are part of the equation.
As a newly single parent, I imagined text messaging with my ex would be a breeze: It would allow me to convey information easily, without having to interact with him directly, and we could all keep moving forward. Or so I thought. In reality, texting my ex turned out to involve caustic exchanges at every turn: Are you being sarcastic? I’ve asked a simple question, when do you plan on answering it? Have you always been this obnoxious, or is it a new thing? Then there were the unanswered messages, often for days at a time, that made it impossible to make plans or look more than a day or two ahead.
For us, the dysfunction reached a peak when I had booked airline tickets to take the girls to Europe, and despite having all my ducks in a row (we had swapped parenting time, I was going to be able to cover private school vacation while my ex worked, and I had alerted him to the flight purchase) my ex didn’t like my approach. “You didn’t ask my permission,” he accused.
It ultimately took a judge, and $1600 in court fees, to tell us what we already knew: our communication skills sucked. And so we were court-mandated to use a co-parenting app called OurFamilyWizard.
Apps like these provide parents with a new way to manage all the details that come with shared parenting — minus the excruciating interactions. They came into existence due to the increase in (and failure of) email and text messaging as the primary means of communication for so many divorced co-parents.
“As attorneys, we had to lay the foundation for getting emails and text messages into evidence, and it wasn’t always a simple process,” Cynthia Palmer, a family lawyer in Texas, told SheKnows. “Having a single repository for all communication with a clear record which could be entered easily into evidence has driven the trend towards using OFW and other similar applications.”
In some instances, co-parents choose to use communication platforms such as OFW; in other instances, particularly when it has been shown that the parties have difficulty communicating or if the relationship is acrimonious, the courts will mandate the use of OFW or a similar app for monitoring communication — or lack thereof. Palmer points to OFW as the preferred platform due to the options it offers both users and the judiciary. “Courts like being able to be granted access and see the entirety of the communications, rather than just the ones chosen by [a single] party’s attorney,” Palmer explains.
So how does it feel to be “forced” to use a co-parenting app to facilitate communication with my contentious ex? Speaking from personal experience, it has changed my life — and my kids’ lives — for the better. Many of my divorced friends (who also find themselves ensnared in the endless cycle of defensive text message threads with their exes) are jealous that I “get” to use this tool.
Palmer, too, says the response to tools like this is overwhelmingly positive: “The primary comment from my clients about using OFW is that it simplifies the communication process, [effectively eliminating] email chains and text chains about the same event, [which would previously lead] to confusion about the status of a response or what the response is.” The OFW Message Board creates a secure platform for communication between parents with the knowledge that messages can never be edited, deleted or retracted. Additional tools like ToneMeter can assist in keeping communication positive and productive.
My personal favorite? OFW allows co-parents to monitor one another’s activity on the app (in other words, when I logged in this morning, I could see that my ex had not signed on in a whopping 12 days). And the benefits don’t stop there: “When it comes to the point in a case that a client is discussing a possible enforcement of an order or modification of an order, we can utilize the OFW exchanges to show the communication or lack of communication regarding certain events,” Palmer adds. Which translates to an automatic paper trail that is managed by the court system — something Palmer has seen the value of, both professionally and personally. “As a family law attorney that also uses [OFW], I like knowing that I don’t have to screenshot, save, and print every communication because everything is automatically saved and logged [and] I can easily go back to previous messages to refresh my memory without having to scroll through numerous emails or text messages,” she says.
And there’s more: The OFW website and apps are aimed specifically at juggling the unique responsibilities of co-parenting. The OFW Calendar provides a clear view of family plans and eliminates confusion over scheduling; the OFW Expense Log literally does the math for you, tracking shared parenting expenses with ease and precision, with space for receipt files and accurate, online payment histories — all of which aim to mitigate financial conflict; the OFW Journal provides space for maintaining notes, and entries can serve as a certified, unchangeable personal incident log; the OFW Info Bank is organized into sections for parents to store medical histories, insurance information, emergency contacts, school schedules, and more.
My kids are getting older — they’re now 12 and 15 — and we are constantly working on communication, among all of us. When my 12-year-old has an orthodontist appointment after school, on the day she transitions to her dad’s house, she will call him the night before to make a plan; when my 15-year-old chooses to stay at my house during her dad’s scheduled parenting time, in order to hang with friends or attend a special event with me, she knows to text her dad to fill him in on the changes. I am constantly teaching them, via my own modeling, the invaluable skills I never gleaned from my own parents who — despite keeping our nuclear family intact — engaged in more bickering and bantering than solid communication (the residual weight of which I carried into my own marriage and perpetuated to near-disastrous results).
The rest of the time, like when I drop $117 on one-piece bathing suits the girls’ camp requires and need to be reimbursed — or when I want to switch weekends in August so the kids and I can head up to Maine to visit their cousins — I log into OurFamilyWizard to let my ex know. Whether I’m sending a message or requesting reimbursement, I’ve got a professional platform at my fingertips — one that’s designed to diminish the frustration of co-parenting while keeping a record of my efforts should the need arise to resurface that record.
And while the app is not powerful enough to make my ex-husband disappear, it feels like something akin to waving a wand and working some magic. Which, from where I sit, is priceless.