From the "Tech Corner" of last month's ABA Family Law Section's eNewsletter:
When you hear the term "timeshare," you might first think of real estate or condos in Las Vegas. But in the realm of family law, timeshare often refers to the time a child spends with each parent. In his "Tools of the Trade" column in Family Advocate (Vol. 20, No. 3), Stephen J. Harhai wrote, "The fundamental problem in working out time-sharing issues is that it is hard to visualize or calculate the effect of a given plan without a lot of grunt work. We have spent untold hours marking calendars, counting days, writing explanations, and generally driving ourselves crazy getting a handle on complicated time-sharing arrangements." Though written in 1998, Harhai's words still ring true today; however, now there are more technological advances at your disposal to assist with managing the schedules of separate households.
This category of software creates parenting plans based on agreed-upon or court-ordered visitation schedules, and also calculates percentage splits. Central to these programs is a calendar that displays visitation schedules as well as activity, holiday and vacation schedules on a daily, weekly or monthly basis with annual and monthly reporting features. This is essential because in many states, support is calculated based on the amount of time that each parent spends with a child. These programs make it possible to record and consequently measure parental time as well as scheduling changes.
While these tools can help family lawyers create compliant parenting plans for their clients, they may also be used by parents and mediators. Several have been developed specifically for collaboration between parents and caregivers and can serve as a means of record keeping for changing or gaining custody.
Following are some options available to navigate the complexities of custody and visitation agreements.
Custody Keeper, formerly ChildShare, offers a collaborative option for parents and caregivers as well as benefits to attorneys. Custody Keeper helps present a clear schedule that everyone will understand to facilitate joint or shared custody. It enables you to track or plan time spent with children, as well as track expenses, events, incidents, support payments, and allows you to keep daily comments. The multi-year calendar includes U.S., Canadian, and custom holidays; you also have the ability to print calendars and reports (for yourself, your clients, or the court) and export your schedules and reports in PDF format.
Custody X Change is a software package for managing child custody and maximizing timeshare for one party (or the other). Initially designed for family lawyers who wanted a tool to win more time for their clients without having to manually re-compute every option, it is now also available to parents. The software includes the ability to print out calendars and reports; you can also download a free trial version from the website.
Kidmate, created in 1996 to meet the need for creating visitation schedules and calculating percentage splits, was one of the first computer programs for negotiating custody between separating parents. Kidmate's Timesharing Organizer creates timesharing and visitation schedules. In the event of an adversarial custodial matter, the Record Keeper module can help you document the history of the timesharing/visitation schedule. Kidmate's patented Percentages and Day Counter feature analyzes schedules four different ways (Overnights, Total Time, Quality Time, and Day Counter) and displays all results on the screen for comparison. The Day Counter is used in many states for calculating child support and shows the cumulative number of days that children spend with each parent per year. (Note: Kidmate was reviewed by Stephen Harhai in Family Advocate, Vol. 20, No. 3.)
OurFamilyWizard is an online tool that enables parents to coordinate schedules, share information, make adjustments to the parenting plan and track shared expenses. Features include a detailed calendar where activities, events and other scheduled items can be viewed generally or in detail, including drop-offs and pick-ups. Journals can be set as shared or private and are color-coded for each family member. The OurFamilyWizard professional account has case management features that allow family law practitioners to create parent accounts, manage client databases, store important client documents online (judgment and decree, court orders, etc.), enable communication with clients, create client to-do lists, and more. An OurFamilyWizard account provides the ability to review case status by linking information to parent accounts.
Parenting Time Calendar by PCGreeting was written by a programmer and a family law legal assistant specifically for lawyers to generate parenting time schedules. It includes holidays for Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. Three versions of the Parenting Time Calendar are available: Single Year Standard, Single Year Deluxe, and 2 Year Deluxe. The Single Year Deluxe performs quality time calculations based on user-defined pickup and dropoff, and the 2 Year Deluxe allows the creation of two-year parenting plans.
Shared Ground is shared parenting calendar software that distributes time equitably between two primary caregivers. Defaults may be used or a custom-designed parenting plan may be created. The calendar can be synchronized with a Palm™-compatible PDA or exported to Microsoft Outlook. Shared Ground's Percentage Calculator displays how much time children are with each parent and can be viewed monthly or examined as an annual distribution report. Shared Ground also includes sample parenting plans and defaults that can be customized. The Shared Ground Enterprise License was designed for divorce and family law attorneys and others involved in developing parenting plans for clients.
To encourage collaborative parenting and promote parental communication and cooperation, several vendors offer tools that enable the parents to develop their own parenting plans and visitation schedules. The plans can be presented to the court and stand a better chance of being approved when created by the parents.
KidsFirst! is a web-based parenting time tracker that can be used to develop parenting plans and visitation schedules. Parents have the option to share one account and answer the questions together, or create separate accounts and provide separate answers, which can be kept private from the other parent. If both parents have agreed to share answers, KidsFirst! compares the answers of both parents to show where the parents are in agreement or need to agree.
Shared Ground provides a Co-Parenting License or two-user single license designed to accommodate two primary Residential Parents (co-parents) or caregivers. This license entitles you to a single software key and two copies of the software program available for downloading from the website. It allows one single Parenting Plan to be created, edited and managed on two separate computers. It can be shared with extended family members, if they have a View-Only License.
The OurFamilyWizard® Parent Account provides access to private and shared family calendars with notifications and reminders, an expense log, journal, and message board along with online access to important documents (My Files).
OPTIMAL™, the Online Parenting Time Information Manager and Access Log, is an online tool that tracks parenting time and monitors custody compliance. OPTIMAL is designed primarily for parental record keeping; it enables parents to keep detailed records for scheduled parenting time and actual time, visit type (regular, denied, late, missed) denied and partial visitation, mileage and expenses. It also counts and displays overnights and provides time-stamps for use in court. A host of other features are also included.