November marks the month that we SHINE THE LIGHT on intimate partner violence. Ongoing communication after separation is challenging for most parents, but even more so when there has been a history of violence. For a woman who has been the victim of intimate partner violence, the “ping” of an email or text message notification from the other parent can be extremely triggering.
Communication between parents with a history of family violence is difficult for emotional as well as practical reasons. For instance, if there is a parallel criminal case, there will likely be “no-contact” or non-association conditions that prohibit the accused parent from contacting the victim. In most circumstances, family court judges can override this restriction to allow for communication between the parents as relating to the children.
There are tools that victims of intimate partner violence can use to assist them to cope with the challenges of maintaining contact with the other parent.
One such tool is a “parenting app”. Family court judges across Ontario have encouraged parents to use these apps to facilitate child-focused communication. There are many apps on the market with a variety of features. Most have the benefit of keeping organized communications between parents while also protecting the victim from constant triggering from pushed notifications and by separating messages with the other parent from general texts/email inboxes. The apps below are commonly used, with features which may be of particular interest to victims of intimate partner violence.
Keep in mind, some apps come with a subscription fee. Depending on the features you are looking for, the small monthly or annual fee may be worth the investment. As explained below, the base model of Talking Parents and App Close are currently free.
Co-Parenter is a U.S.-based app for parents. It offers all the standard features, like messaging, calendar sharing, expense planning, etc. Some of the more unique features include live and A.I. technology “to predict and prevent common conflicts”. For instance, when typing out a message which the program recognizes as hostile in tone, a message will prompt the parent writing the message to re-think the language they are using to convey the message. This may be useful to curb the verbally abusive or harassing messages from the other parent.
Co-Parenter also has built in live coaching and mediation features.
This is another American app with all the standard offerings. It has features such as direct payments and enables the user to connect with their lawyer. Reviewers have celebrated this app for holding the other parent “accountable” because of the record keeping and messaging features. One common symptom of PTSD from intimate partner violence is an inability to stay focused or organized, so these types of tools can be an extra support to lean on.
OFW is a popular option. Subscription fees range from about $125 to $265 annually, depending on the package. Some key features that may be particularly useful for families where intimate partner violence has been an issue include the ToneMeter tool, and the security of knowing messages cannot be edited, deleted, etc. The ToneMeter function is similar to Co-Parenter’s A.I. technology that helps flag and prevent a parent from sending a nasty message that they will regret later.
Lawyers and professionals can also be given access to their client’s accounts. In some circumstances, this may be a good secondary safeguard to ensure communications are monitored.
Talking Parents is probably the app that I see parents using most frequently. It is simple and the base subscription is free. Messages cannot be deleted or altered, which is important in holding the other parent accountable for their communications. There is a phone/video call feature which can be used without providing the other parent with your phone number. Depending on the subscription plan, there is also the option to record calls, which can add an extra incentive for communications to stay child-focused.
Unfortunately, technology can also be weaponized when used maliciously. When a parent goes too far online, remedies may be available depending on the circumstances. If the comments are on social media and they violate the acceptable use policies of the social media provider, the providers have reporting mechanisms that one can use to get the offending posts deleted.
In Ontario, there has been an expansion of “invasion of privacy” torts over the past few years to give rights of action and damages in some online family circumstances. Harrison Pensa Technology and Privacy Group recently explored Privacy torts: Four types of invasion of privacy.
Using a parenting app for communications about family and child related matters can be part of a plan to move a family forward in a reparative manner. Every family is different and will have their own needs. You should consult with an experienced family lawyer about how this option may work for your situation.
Bayly Guslits is a family law lawyer at Harrison Pensa. Bayly represents clients in matters related to separation or divorce. She also speaks to issues of technology in the court system and family law.
David Canton is a business lawyer at Harrison Pensa with a practice focusing on technology issues.