The words “I have it in writing” from a client before a custody trial is a dream come true. It eliminates the “he said, she said” issues. There it is, in black and white. As technology evolves, the way people communicate changes. Now the words “I have it in writing” are pictures of text messages. There it is, in blue and green bubbles. This popular form of communication produces does have its challenges when text messages become evidence.
Quality. Does the client have the ability to produce text messages that are readable? Often these exhibits are a series of screen shots in no order. Hours are spent organizing the conversations like a jigsaw puzzle. Then there is an infamous picture of a phone with the text message on the screen. Sometime the messages are blurry, the background is dark and there are parts of the conversation cut off.
Professionalism. Since family law is emotional, parents often forget that these messages will be introduced as evidence and viewed by a Judge. Conversations between parents include Emoji’s, curse words, and the latest initialism to interpret, LOL! Then there is the awkward conversation when you ask your client to resend all the text messages because instead of parent’s name; there is a poop emoji or an adjective that would violate the disparaging remarks clause in the most broadly worded custody order.
Authentication. “the admissibility of electronic communication, such messages are to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis as any other document to determine whether or not there has been an adequate foundational showing of their relevance and authenticity.” Commonwealth v Mosley. However these text messages are provided, they should include the date and time. Sometimes there are limitations when the date on the message is “Sunday” or “Yesterday,” but trial is not for another two weeks. Hours are spent reviewing the text messages to confirm the conversation is complete and a bubble text was not deleted.
A Significant amount of trial preparation is dedicated to making sure these messages will be introduced, they are readable, and your client’s character is not blemished. Companies have developed apps for this purpose. The most popular is Our Family Wizard. This co-parenting app offers many tools that center around the most common issues litigated in custody matters. The most appealing feature is the messaging function. The parents communicate like text messaging while eliminates the challenges of quality and authentication. The messages are documented and maintained as a record. There is a time stamp to confirm messages were sent and viewed. No more arguments over if a message was received, the date and time of the conversation, and no more concerns if a conversation was deleted or altered. To assist with professionalism there is a ToneMeter function, which is an emotional spellcheck for the party sending the message. There are joint calendars, GPS check-ins to create a log of a parents arrives at an exchange, and an info bank which a place to store information from medical records to the child’s shoe size. If finances are an issue this app has an expense function – a way to approve shared expenses and exchange payments. The Journal function permits the parties to share details, observations, homework, memories, photos, and milestones. Third parties may access to these accounts, such as Attorneys, Guardian Ad Litems, Parenting Coordinators, and childcare workers. Even the Children have limited access.
It is helpful when there is protection from abuse order, high conflict cases, and when family law professionals are involved. What parents would not want to use this app? Parents who do not want to pay for the costs, are unable to pay for the cost, or do not want to be monitored. What are the alternatives?
If a parent is unwilling to agree to use a parenting app, the Court can order the parents to register and use a specific app, such as Our Family Wizard. The order can specify which features to use, which third parties may have access to the accounts, when to register, and the allocation of the costs. If a parent is unable to pay the subscription Our Family Wizard does offer free and discounted subscriptions. The party applies for the fee waiver program to determine eligibility.
Our Family Wizard is a popular co-parenting app. The features are appealing, and the conversation records are easy to follow for litigation purposes. But the costs start at $99.00 per parent per year. If you want to add the Tonemeter and expand the file space to store all this amazing information, the costs increase.
Our Family Wizard is not the only co-parenting app available. Each family is unique, and Our Family Wizard may not be the best fit for ever families’ budget and needs. Other apps include: WeParent, Cozi, FamCal, Coparenlty, Custody Connection, Parentship, 2Houses, AppClose, Coparenta, Famcal, Talking Parents, and many more. Many are free which is appealing to parents. But there is usually a catch such as: in app advertisements, the companies sell and share information, limited storage space, in app purchases, the unpredictability of pay per download, and limited features.
The comparable free co-parenting app is AppClose. It offers similar features to the paid Our Family Wizard app such as a calendar function, messenger function, expense function, and the ability to export records. The downfalls are customer service and retention. While the website claims to have 24/7 service, I was unable to find an e-mail address or phone number. Maybe that information is only offered to subscribed users. On their Facebook page I found a phone number but received a message they only communicate via e-mail and did not provide an e-mail address. If the client’s account is inactive or deleted, all the data and records will be deleted. Upon reading the terms of service, the company may modify, suspend, or discontinue your use for any reason without notice.
Co-parenting, yes there is an app for that and finding the best fit for the family will not only assist in communication between parents but can assist in preparing for litigation.