Overcoming PARENTING CONFLICTS with OurFamilyWizard
Visitation and parenting exchange disputes often occur simply because of confusion or poor communication skills between parents, but they can be deeply embarrassing and distressing for children and a source of continuing anxiety and reactivity on the part of parents. Sometimes these disputes can reflect a pattern of parental alienation. They can cost divorcing parents needless expense when they feel impelled to report these frustrations to their attorneys, taking time off from work battling about who really said what and when in court, and where they feel forced to engage each other within the legal system. This wastes valuable judicial resources with a court process that tends to perpetuate conflict rather than ending it.
As a custody, visitation, and move-away lawyer I commonly receive complaints from my clients - and sometimes allegations about them - concerning failed visitation exchanges, holiday plans, or unseemly conduct between family court litigants. Often these complaints are evidenced by texting and emails, but usually they are reported to me as my client's memories of angry telephone calls back and forth. Either way, it is difficult for me to know and prove what was really said and in what order, or to sensibly provide proof to opposing counsel, family judges, or to court mediators and evaluating therapists. Even where a text log can be created or downloaded, or where emails exist, it is not only time consuming to put them into a declaration or letter form but the fact is that nobody who is umpiring such conflicts wants to read them all. Family Court judges are overburdened and don't have the time. If a non-judicial professional spends the time to review them and reports back to the Court, this probably means they are being paid by you or the other party to do so. Email communications are one of the more unwieldy forms of evidentiary records to wade through, since what occurred is contained in email threads that appear in reverse order in the form of replies.
Moreover, in my experience, people having highly charged parenting conflicts typically write texts and emails that range from being merely improvident to outrageous. Often these folks are writing with the expectation someone will read and buy into their position later, and at other times they just say something provocative or mean and hit 'send' before they can be mindful of what they are doing and how it might be interpreted later. Or how the negativity trickles down to their children.
This is a real problem for families, and it is financially and emotionally expensive.
Many Courts particularly in Los Angeles and Orange counties California, have ordered high-conflict parents to enroll with www.OurFamilyWizard.com with some very positive results in terms of dialing down the hostilities between them and so reducing trips to court. These include a significant decline in these cases finding their way back to court. This only benefits children and the parents themselves.
presents a valuable mindfulness tool which holds possibilities that range
from simply offering a forum for notification of soccer games, birthday,
and vacation time with grandparents and others and confirming homework
assignments and parent-teacher conferences to creating a 'safe'
environment where one or both parents can avoid those nasty phone calls
or ugly emails that so often trigger a never ending cycle of action and
reaction. As such, it promises to impose some accountability, to help
parents reflect upon their speech and even body language, and to make
children's lives easier. It can be a valuable tool for judges and
mental health professionals, as well as lawyers, to have an easily accessed
record of what really happened.
www.OurFamilyWizard.com has a number of useful features. It provides a Calendar that maps out visitation schedules and any imaginable event, like doctor visits, birthdays, or other reminders. Parents have the ability to confirm or modify their intentions as to any given event. Parents can offer to switch visitation days, and there is a record of the offer and whether or not it was accepted and if so upon what terms.
It has a separate Journal function that allows private or shared entries, and gives the parent an appropriate place to praise or vent about the other parent.
It has an Expense Log function that enables parents to make requests about child support or expense reimbursements, and even to upload medical or school uniform and any other invoices so that the other parent can verify the authenticity of the requests. Payment can even be made between banks on-line with a fee far below what credit cards charge.
It allows for email or text notification of posts. There is a message board.
Here Are Some Good Things About Using OurFamilyWizard
Benefits to using www.OurFamilyWizard.com:
- It can provide an exclusive means of communicating for high-conflict parents. This allows the parents to avoid phone calls at any hour of the day or night that sometimes turn accusatory or demanding. One can take their former partner out of the loop in that sense, which may be less disruptive to new mates or even one's children who don't have hear her mother or father arguing by cell phone on the way home from school.
- It can be a one stop scheduling forum and marketplace for parents who are not in high conflict, but who are naturally time-challenged and pressured over remembering where they are supposed to be and when.
- It provides a record that cannot be undone or manipulated after the fact. For instance, emails threads can be manipulated and changed by a parent in that one can always rewrite one someone supposed said within the thread and print it out and submit it as evidence. These changes earlier on in an email thread might even go unnoticed because people don't usually suspect it and so check the thread for falsification before submitting it to courts.
- Where parents have agreed, it has been so ordered, or where records need to be subpoenaed if a family court dispute does arise, the information is available in an efficient way. The owners say they can respond to a subpoena with an appropriate declaration from the custodian of records, which makes them admissible over objection for lack of foundation and hearsay, with 24 hours.
- One can modify some functions - like schedules up to the day of an event -but thereafter entries become locked and so cannot be altered after the fact.
- It can help parents become more mindful of what they say. If parents resist the desire to attack the other parent or make unfortunate derogatory comments about the other parent or their new spouse or boy friend or girlfriend and so on, it can de-escalate conflict and reduce tit-for-tat.
- Record print outs can be obtained without subpoena when it so agreed and utilized in court proceedings.
- A parent who is being harassed by the other can use the system as a shield not only from personal vitriol but also in defending against a campaign of case making by the other parent.
- It makes huge sense in domestic violence settings.
Disadvantages to Using OurFamilyWizard
Potential disadvantages to using www.OurFamilyWizard.com
- It requires Internet access and costs about $100/year.
- If given permission, or if ordered by the Court, other people can be granted access to the records. These people could include judges, lawyers, family mediators, and mental health professionals. While this may be a good thing, as a family lawyer I see this function as dangerous because:
Hearsay which would otherwise not be admitted in a family court proceeding might be reviewed by one of these persons.
There is no way of knowing how judicial officer's or evaluator's views and hence their recommendations for orders were caused or affected by what they read, or even what it is that they read.
- A particular problem is also that one or both parents may still skew the facts or write or an imaginary audience. In other words, a parent can insincerely make offers 'for the record' that appear reasonable at first glance but that are really more sinister in terms of promoting their own agenda. In this sense it can be wrongfully used as a posturing sword.
- If one parent by nature is less vocal or less computer savvy than another, then their silence in response to repeated commentary or requests could be misinterpreted by a reader.
- In cases where one parent is constantly firing off messages or offers or demands, the other parent may be forced to be in constant response.
These of course are not shortcomings of the Family Wizard program, but
are a consequences of the tendency of people in high conflict relationship
breakup to manipulate appearances.
At least where court proceedings are concerned, which does appear to include the majority of users and to be a major justification for the product, the disadvantages can be minimized if judges and lawyers tailor ground rules for what functions will be used and how they will be used. These would include stipulations about who can access the on-line account, and what foundation is required before the records are introduced into evidence.
Author: Thurman W. Arnold III, CFLS