Co-parenting apps helping separated families raise their kids
Reaching a co-parenting agreement is one thing. Making it work is another thing all together.
In our mediation work, we see first-hand how much effort it takes from both parties to reach a co-parenting agreement in the best interests of their child. Once an agreement has been reached, the relief felt by both parties is palpable. But then comes the hard part – making the co-parenting agreement work. That’s where co-parenting apps come in – to make this next stage of co-raising kids just that bit easier.
What is a co-parenting app and how can it help me?
On hearing there’s an app for that, most co-parents are grateful there’s a digital tool easily downloadable to their phone aimed at improving communication with their ex around raising the kids. And there are plenty to choose from, ranging from free versions to ones that charge an annual fee and come with extensive features, depending on your needs.
While the ideal co-parenting relationship is one of low conflict, for the million reasons we see in mediation, we understand that is not always possible. For those co-parents who are only interested in the necessary shared responsibilities of raising kids, these apps can be an excellent way to organise and keep track of the kids’ lives while documenting the important things (like medical appointments) without the need of constant reminder texts between parents. Co-parenting apps also enable parents to synchronise their schedules and even track financial transactions relating to raising the child. While each app has unique benefits and meet very different needs of co-parents, all of them share the common goal of minimising conflict by offering effective, drama-free communication channels and subject sections (ie. health, school, etc). If the co-parents can manage to raise their children with minimal conflict, these apps can be a fantastic and inclusive tool enabling parents to share in the joy of their kids’ lives, no matter which parent the child is with at the time.
What should I look for in a co-parenting app?
There are some basic, must-have features for co-parenting to work successfully using an app: shared calendars, some form of messaging, and documentation. The rest of the features available to meet your needs will depend on your appetite for complexity, involvement, and cost. And let’s face it, when it comes to the challenges co-parenting a child together, there’s a lot to be gained from keeping it simple.
With that in mind, we’ll explore some of the apps available, dividing them into free and paid categories. It can be overwhelming – even for the digital native parents out there (let alone anyone over 40) so try and limit your trial to a few – we suggest no more than three. Before diving into the app store, make your start the analogue way by writing down the things you need to focus on with your co-parent (go back to those three basics as a start – scheduling, messaging, and documentation) and go from there. Your search for the right app will be so much easier when you know what you need in an app. Also, it’s important to note we have tried some but not all these options – but have based our suggestions on ones we’ve used and others that come highly recommended. It’s always a good idea to read the reviews in the app store – as users are always passionately honest about what’s not great about an app!
In the interests of time, we’ll review the free apps only, but we have listed the fee-based apps at the end of the article for your further investigation.
Free co-parenting apps for separated parents
Cozi has the basics covered and is simple to use – so already that’s a major win in our opinion. Cozi is marketed as a ‘family organiser’ instead of a ‘divorce co-parenting app’ so focuses on the calendar, to do lists and notes (which can act like instructions and is possibly a less intrusive way of communicating than a messenger functionality built in). Often in mediation, nutrition and cooking is an issue, with one parent being more experienced in this side of parenting than the other. Cozi addresses this well by including grocery lists and even has a simple recipe section. This is particularly helpful for the parent who is relatively new to cooking and gives peace of mind to the other parent that the kids’ nutritional needs are being met. Co-operation can build through help with grocery lists and menu selection. You can also share photos, track activities and document events.
For a free app, Appclose is packed with features you didn’t know you’d need. The multi-functional calendar includes parenting schedule templates, pre-set calendar options, comment capability and record keeping functionality – and that’s just the calendar. The messenger functionality includes group chat (this could include childcare providers) and conversations between co-parents cannot be deleted or altered – which helps keep communication civil and provides a record of respectful (or disrespectful) communication. Keeping communication with a co-parent separate can reduce stress and help you compartmentalise the co-parenting aspect of your life, so it doesn’t impact or cross boundaries regarding the other areas of your life – which is why it’s handy to keep it in the app and out of your regular text feed. The ‘requests’ functionality enables parents to submit requests to each other such as a reimbursement or if a change in drop-off time is required, and a built-in payment system means you can send receipts and send and receive payments. The abundance of features in this app means it may take some getting used to, as it is a bit more complicated than other apps (but hey – it’s free!).
Created by Stepfamilies Australia and Drummond Street Services (Victoria), this app uses the skills and expertise of the specialists who created it to enable separated parents to be more accountable for their children’s welfare and encourages positive communication between co-parents. MyMob offers the basics – family calendar, message board (where messages are left for co-parents that are unable to be deleted or altered and also includes a profanity filter to ensure communication in the app is civil), an ‘our mob’ feature (group chat) a kids zone that allows your children to post info they would like both parents to know (a test score or sporting performance, or even a birthday present request), and a digital fridge where you can post pictures including your kid’s art. Most importantly, (and here’s where those skills of the app creators come in), there is a resources section to help with parenting, featuring articles on a wide range of topics including what to do if you are having trouble coping to helping your kids be more social. MyMob can also include older kids who may have a phone as users, and enable them to have a voice in their co-parenting scenario. The app is easy to use and keeps things simple, at the same time providing invaluable resources produced by highly skilled practitioners to help with the new learning journey most co-parents are on.
The mother of all scheduling apps, TimeTree takes keeping a calendar to a whole new level. Once you choose the purpose of your calendar (and share it with the relevant parties) you can upload pictures, comment on events and schedule activities. If your core purpose is scheduling and you want to keep all communication and documents etc (you can attach documents to events) in one simple place (the calendar) and rely on notifications as a way of offering a gentle reminder, then this might be the right co-parenting app for you. And yes, you can colour code and label events and activities (school, health, pick-ups etc) to make life easier. The people at TimeTree believe in the mantra: do one thing really well. And hey – 24 million users can’t be wrong – so there’s some magic here (if you can handle the ads on the free version, of course).
FamCal sits squarely in the easy-to-use basic functionality camp and will likely do the required job with minimal fuss. In addition to event scheduling, the calendar also allows for to-do lists, shopping lists and a daily memo that can be synced with other users (co-parents, carers etc). Its minimal functionality means less likelihood for emotional conflict/triggers (ie the ability to upload pics of the birthday party that you weren’t invited to) and the daily memo is a simple way to remind yourself about the kids’ needs on any given day.
Possibly the worst named app of the lot (we no longer refer to having ‘custody’ of a child – that term is long outdated), despite its triggering title, Custody Connection aims to help parents maintain a co-parenting schedule where they can easily communicate and ‘request changes’ at the push of the button. This feature alone, could be a solution in search of a problem you really don’t want to have – and could possibly encourage change requests by making it a primary feature of the app. One good feature is a separate section that stores all the important information for each child in a single place, which makes sense in the event of an emergency. The syncing of each co-parent or a child’s own calendar, makes it easy when trying to schedule things outside of your time with the kids. However, the design and user-experience could do with an overhaul – and the free version doesn’t get the best rap in app store reviews.
Paid for co-parenting apps for separating families
Paid apps range from a monthly to yearly fee, with most offering a free trial period before you commit. Of the ones recommended here, the first two are by far, the most popular in Australia.
Our Family Wizard
A final word on co-parenting apps
Before freefalling into a digital black hole of parenting apps, start by outlining your basic needs from must-have to nice to have. Try and match the app to the parent – ie if your co-parent is very cost-conscious, then don’t suggest a parenting app that charges a monthly or annual fee. You need buy in for this to work, so don’t set it up for failure by suggesting a solution that you know the other parent will never accept. Also, keep things simple – sometimes a ton of extra functionality will only make things harder – be mindful of your co-parent’s appetite for and confidence in using technology. Also, try and make things easier on your mental health – for example, if you get emotionally triggered by seeing pictures of your children enjoying themselves with the other parent, don’t go for an app that allows and encourages users to upload pics. On the other hand, if you and your ex are champion co-parents, by all means, create that library of memorable co-parenting moments.
And finally, even the perfect app cannot create the perfect co-parenting relationship. Like anything long-term in life, it’s a learning journey that you will, in time, improve on. Co-parenting apps aren’t a single dose magic pill, but they can definitely play an important role in your overall approach to co-parenting in the best interests of the kids.
To help you prepare for mediation, we have created a library of helpful information including checklists, tips and added detail around the process of mediation. For useful and relevant information you can download for free, we encourage you to visit our resources page.
Family Dispute Practitioner, Fresh Start Mediation
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