Here’s one lawyer’s favorite app to help co-parents communicate clearly and concisely about their children’s expenses.
By Laura Ruvolo Lipp, Family Lawyer
Few issues in family law are more frustrating for family law attorneys, mediators, judges, and even litigants to address than when two unmarried parents have conflicting positions about numerous shared expenses paid (or not paid) for their children.
If we are lucky, at least one parent maintained a detailed and organized spreadsheet with copies of invoices and receipts. More often than not, we are instead presented with either a box or 47 scattered emails of receipts and other documentation that make little sense to anyone other than the person who saved them. We divorce professionals then initiate the bouncing game of whether or when each cost was incurred, whether or when notice was given from one parent to another, whether or when documentation was provided, whether payment was made, whether reimbursement was made, whether reimbursement was made directly and separately from other payments or whether it was deducted from something else one parent owed another, etc. If there are 38 different expenses at issue, then we engage in this exercise 38 different times. Sometimes we resolve some of them. Sometimes we resolve none of them.
In my years as a family law attorney, mediator, and Early Settlement Panel volunteer, I have encountered this scenario more times than I can possibly count. The documentation is almost never clear and/or complete. The entire situation usually spirals into a literal and figurative mess.
The Number of Unpaid/Unreimbursed Expenses Snowballs
Every single time I have asked a parent why they waited so long to demand reimbursement or why they waited until there were dozens of reimbursements owed before they made any efforts to enforce an Order to share those expenses, the answer I always receive is some version of “because he is impossible to deal with and I don’t want to talk to him/her any more than I absolutely have to.” Consequently, the number of unpaid or unreimbursed expenses continues to snowball and the parties’ conflict exponentially increases. Without clear documentation of each and every expense and evidence of related communications, the lawyers can only do so much in resolving it despite their best efforts.
A mediator can be really helpful in facilitating an agreement between unmarried parents and avoiding the court process, but even the best mediator in the world cannot make two people come together and agree on the disposition of payments on 38 different expenses which may or may not exist or may or may not have been paid unless they are provided with necessary documentation and evidence regarding each and every expense. Consequently, either one party agrees to “eat” some or all payments they are owed or they file an application requesting our already overburdened court system to intervene in the mess and figure it all out.
If two parents are in conflict about 38 different expenses that pertain to their own children and neither present the required evidence to fully support all aspects of their position, how is an exhausted and overworked judge supposed to magically figure it all out and issue an appropriate order? They can’t. Instead, the frustrated judge will often order the parties to go to mediation. And the expensive, frustrating, and unproductive snowball continues.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful for there to be a way to avoid all of this? For parents to communicate clearly and concisely about their children’s expenses and for documentation of those communications to all exist in one place? For receipts to be saved, forwarded, and received with a date stamp of when all of that occurred? For payments to be made from one party to another with easy-to-understand documentation of when that payment was made, when that payment was received, and what specific expense that payment was meant to cover? Does that sound too good to be true? Well, it’s actually not: there’s an app for that.
An App to Help Co-Parents Manage Their Shared Expenses
Although there are many good co-parenting apps available, the one we use is DComply. If you’re unaware of this app, let me tell you why we recommend it to all our clients who will be co-parenting during and after divorce.
DComply is a user-friendly co-parent app that facilitates easy and efficient management of children’s expenses. DComply allows coparents to use their smartphones to manage recurring expenses, exchange receipts, and even pay each other directly within the app (think Venmo). You can even program the app to adjust all expenses to be consistent with the proportional shares for which each parent is responsible.
Invented by Marco Munoz, DComply debuted in 2019. When I first met Munoz, I asked him where he got the idea and motivation to create the app. As a divorce practitioner, I suspected that I already knew the answer: he must have in some way personally experienced the hair-pulling hell of attempting to resolve these issues in his own life. As I predicted, Munoz described to me his own frustrating experience of sharing his son’s expenses with his former wife in the years following his own divorce. His personal experience made him determined to find a better way to eliminate the frustration, delays, lies, and “detective work” that was causing him to waste hundreds of hours of time and cost thousands of dollars in legal fees. When he could not find a better way, he took it upon himself to create an app to save himself and other parents from suffering through this madness.
Example: Helping Co-Parents Manage Their Shared Expenses
Here is an example of just one of the many situations in which DComply can help co-parents manage their shared expenses. Imagine you just paid $384.32 for your son’s soccer uniform and equipment. Your son’s other parent is responsible for 67% of such expenses. You simply take out your smartphone and scan the receipt. DComply stores the receipt, sends it to your co-parent, does the math, and instructs them to reimburse you for the soccer uniform in the amount of $257.49. Your co-parent then [hopefully] transfers $257.49 to you within the app. Voilà. Done.
If you dispute a specific expense and do not want to pay it until that dispute is resolved, you can mark it accordingly and DComply will notify your co-parent. All this time, the app is logging the dates and times you sent the request, your co-parent received and opened the request (so they cannot pretend they did not see it), the payment was made, and the payment was received.
At any time, you can download a detailed report of your transactions and payment statuses called a “Current Balance Summary.” This is my favorite feature of DComply. This report provides you with every detail you could possibly need regarding the net amount owed from one parent to the other, incomplete requests that remain unpaid, completed transactions, and transactions in dispute.
The app limits, simplifies, and manages requests for reimbursements, issues in dispute, and financial exchanges regarding your children’s expenses. It manages your records and communications regarding children’s expenses in a way that is quicker and more organized than even the most diehard spreadsheet keeper. It allows attorneys to limit their focus, efforts, and fees to more pertinent issues requiring their legal skills and expertise rather than sorting through hundreds of receipts, text messages, and emails in an attempt to piece together what will often still result in an incomplete puzzle. It removes a huge pile of confusion for our overburdened family court judges to address (and ultimately order to mediation) and so on and so on and so on. Most importantly, it avoids one major area of contention between co-parents, which often contributes to a more harmonious atmosphere in which they are raising their children. For $5.99 per month, this is simply a no-brainer.
In my roles as a mediator and attorney, I encourage co-parents to utilize DComply in almost all cases involving shared expenses for their children. I make sure their Agreement (for Court Order) contains as many detailed instructions as possible to ensure the parties will download, pay for, and begin using the app quickly and efficiently to avoid further delays or arguments.
My firm has prepared approximately five (5) pages of such form language to address different case scenarios. You can find it in the FAQs under “DComply Divorce Agreement Language” so it is available for all attorneys, mediators, and judges to download, tailor, and utilize.
Create Reports on Particular Expenses
In early 2023, DComply will begin offering an affordable add-on module that will provide an instant messaging feature for parents. Not only will users be able to communicate in more detail than simply initiating a payment request, but they will also be able to easily generate detailed reports of their communications based on dates and topics. Rather than parse through months or years of communications about different topics, issues, and disagreements, they can simply pull up a report of all communications related to that particular topic and/or expense. Attorneys, think of how much easier it would be to prepare an enforcement motion about unpaid braces, 42 different co-pays, and camps. (Anyone who has practiced family law understands this pain all too well. I’m talking to you!)
Of course, not every family I work with agrees to utilize DComply despite my best efforts to help them understand that it will make their lives much easier. Some clients are still skittish about introducing “unnecessary” tech into their lives. Some love their spreadsheets and insist that their way of handling things works “just fine.” Some clients are simply not open to new ideas.
Whether I am working as an attorney or a mediator, if my client rejects my suggestion to utilize DComply, I confirm that in writing. This will go a long way toward justifying my legal fees incurred in the future if needed. It will also arm me with a much-needed “I told you how you could have avoided this” when I send a client away to sort through their own box of receipts or put together their own puzzle of 124 scattered emails and text messages. That alone makes the app an invaluable asset to my practice.
Laura Ruvolo Lipp is certified by the New Jersey Supreme Court as a Matrimonial Law Attorney. She is also a family law mediator and trained family law Collaborative Divorce attorney. She has dedicated her entire legal career to the practice of family law. www.familyfocusedlegal.com
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