Amanda Yenerall, an attorney with Stewart, Melvin, & Frost, provides some legal perspective regarding the impact of technology on divorces. In her practice, Amanda works extensively in the area of family law including divorce, alimony, custody and child-support cases. She also is a certified court mediator.
Question: Technology may not be able to save a marriage, but has it helped divorced couples get along any better?
Amanda: Technology, especially smartphones, has definitely helped ease the pressures of post-divorce family relationships, especially when children are involved.
When a couple gets divorced, they typically prefer to avoid each other. But if they have children, the reality is they will have to stay in touch and communicate, particularly with joint custody. Especially in today’s world where kids have so many activities going on.
In these situations, smartphones and computer technology have played a huge role in helping divorced couples communicate better with less direct confrontation.
Question: Can you give some specific examples of how technology has made life easier for divorced couples?
Amanda: Communication via e-mails and texting allows a sense of detachment. Many divorced couples, especially in the initial months of their separation, can’t even stand the sound of their ex-spouse’s voice. So, smartphones and computers get in the middle and help buffer some of the personal contact between them.
In joint-custody situations where a divorced couple lives far apart, Skype technology – which allows visual and audio communication over the Internet – has helped the children maintain closer contact with each parent. I’ve had cases where parents live out of state and they are able to see their children on a nightly basis and even help them with their homework through Skype. Also families can use Facetime, which is another video conferencing app, if they have an iPhone or iPad. It allows children to have contact with their parent without involving the other parent which can cut down on conflict.
On-line calendars also have been helpful for divorced couples with children. It has helped with better coordination and accountability when the couples know exactly who is picking up “little Johnny” from school or perhaps when the child is having a sleepover at a friend’s house. It cuts down on confusion and misunderstandings over each parent’s responsibilities. There’s simply less finger-pointing because each parent is better informed with a shared calendar on-line.
The “immediacy” of smartphones and their connectivity also has helped reduce the potential for arguments being played out in front of the children. For example, if the Dad is running late returning his son to the mother, he can get immediate word to the ex-spouse via a text message, as opposed to showing up late and having to explain his delay after the fact – which almost certainly will lead to a heated discussion.
Question: There are so many apps today on our smartphones. Is there an app for divorce, too?
Amanda: That’s not as funny as it might sound, because the answer is yes. In fact, there are quite a few apps that are specifically designed for divorced couples.
One of the apps is called Our Family Wizard. This particular on-line tool works so well that it has actually been mandated by the courts in some divorce cases.
One of the features of the Family Wizard app is that it sends out automated notices and reminders about each parent’s responsibilities such as an alimony payment or a standing appointment with their child’s school counselor.
The app documents e-mail communications and ensures that each party is living up to their obligations with an online record that can be monitored by their lawyers if necessary. And it also allows divorced parents to coordinate their shared expenses through an online accounting system.
This app – and there are others, too – is just another example how technology has helped divorced couples become more accountable to each other and to their children, while lessening some of the potential for direct and personal confrontation.