An app to help separated parents avoid court hearings

A barrister specialising in family law has headed the design of a web-app that helps separated parents communicate more effectively and avoid wasting money on needless court hearings over who has the gym kit, or where the handover is taking place. He fills us in…

Michael Edwards is a London-based barrister at 4 Paper Builders as well as the founder of ParentPlan.

How long have you been working with families/specialising in family law?
I have been a barrister for five years and have specialised in family law since I started. I represent parents and children who find themselves in difficult situations, involving anything from parental disputes over holiday arrangements to international child abduction.

Can you give some examples of hearings that could have been avoided with your app?
There is a huge emphasis now on helping parents to resolve their disputes away from court. But some parents simply cannot agree about small things, like which parent has the gym kit or where the handover was supposed to take place. Children’s parties – which parent should take the child? Can they still go even with the other parent? Holiday dates – making sure they don’t clash, ensuring the other parent has contact/ flight/ accommodation details.

These small things spiral into bigger things and before they realise it parents find themselves back in court arguing. ParentPlan aims to avoid that by providing a platform for parents to communicate positively about their children. It should prevent disputes before they happen and stop them spiralling out of control.

We also think that ParentPlan could help other parents, not just those who have separated or going through the family courts. It should help busy parents who need an easy way to communicate.

How will it help separated parents?

What are the various sections/options within the app?
The starting point is the Timeline, which provides a running record of all recent activity, so members can see what others have uploaded.

There are then a number of other functions:

Calendar – to keep all important dates in one place
Contacts – store and share all contacts relating to the
Documents – school reports, medical notes, holiday contact details etc
Media – photos, videos, audio; like a private Facebook
Pinboard – a noticeboard of all important reminders for the upcoming week
News – links to parenting news, offers etc

We plan to add more functions depending on the feedback we get and what members tell us they want.

All of the information uploaded will be completely secure.

How did you go about getting it built; has it been funded?
We have been working with a great developer called Will Ward at Skyward Solutions. He has worked flat out on a shoestring budget.

We have self-funded at this stage with any resources we can cobble together.

Will the kids be involved – can they input, or is it just for adults?
Yes, they will have as much access as parents choose to give. For example, parents may want just to share the media function with the children so they can look at the photos and videos.

What’s the difference between Parent Plan and a shared Google calendar with space for notes?
The level of functionality is much higher. The calendar links to the other functions. For example, if there is a parents’ evening coming up, school reports can be linked from the documents section.

Who will benefit the most from this app?
Separated parents will benefit from having a platform to communicate positively and stay organised.

But all parents who are busy and need to keep on top of things should benefit.

Have you seen evidence of good planning leading to a less traumatic experience of divorce for the children involved?
It’s well-established that poor parental communication leads to emotional harm for the children caught in between. Parents often find it difficult to insulate the children from these disputes – they often try but it is very difficult. Negative feelings are easily transmitted, consciously and unconsciously.

Quick example: if a child is moving between two homes during the school week, this can lead to all sorts of issues/arguments about the kit/equipment the child might need. The child suffers if the parents can’t work this out between them. Pinboard should help parents to get on top of this kind of issue.

What are your hopes for this app?
I hope it helps separated parents to resolve their disputes as they go through the process.

And for all parents, I hope it helps makes their lives easier at some level and means they won’t miss anything.

How will you market it?
Our budget is fairly limited so we are keeping it quite low key at the moment. We have an advert currently on a website called Family Law Week which is widely used in the family law world.

We have spent a lot of time talking to judges, mediators, family therapists, who all very much like the idea and will be recommending it to people.

ParentPlan is a web-app that can be used on computers, mobiles and tablets…