Children and childcare expenses can often force divorced parents to stay in communication with each other when would rather not, sometimes resulting in uncomfortable exchanges and disputes over who owes what. The complications involved in tallying and balancing receipts add yet another tense layer to the dissolution of a marriage.
Child-related expenses must be addressed despite former partners’ communication barriers, however. Parents need to make a variety of purchases for their children – new clothes, braces, summer camp and more – but handling these budgeting matters is difficult, even among partners who have divorced amicably. Such matters become even more complex as parents remarry and bring additional caregivers into their children’s lives.
It was for this reason that Laura MacMahon co-founded Family Plan, an app that facilitates expense sharing between divorcees. MacMahon, who is also the president of the company, stated that the app’s design keeps payment services swift, streamlined and professional.
“If parents are given an easy, businesslike way to take care of the most high-conflict area of divorce – which usually ends up being money – then that creates space for them to … focus more on the happiness and health of the whole family,” she said. “[That entails] making sure you can make payments quickly without fuss, avoiding the emotional turmoil of having to meet up in a parking lot to hand over cash, because those face-to-face interactions are really when the conflict can come to a head. … Being able to make payments and requests quickly and have it all happen in a businesslike format minimizes that conflict.”
Family Plan, which also supports scheduling and communications – two other key areas that affect divorced parents – was inspired by MacMahon’s personal experience of marrying a man who shares four children with an ex-partner.
“Trying to track the schedules, expenses and communications that are required to run a family that has gone from one household to two households is really chaotic,” she explained. “There are too many moving parts to keep track of it manually.”
Taking Friction out of Finances
Former spouses must handle recurring alimony and child support payments, as well as unexpected expenses like medical bills. Apps like Family Plan can reduce the stress involved in negotiating payments and bill splitting with features that automate recurring expenses, track qualifying in-the-moment costs and provide purchasing visibility, MacMahon said – including into which elements have been reimbursed and which are still due.
Family Plan offers quick money transfers within its app, too, with funds delivered directly to users’ bank accounts via a Fiserv integration. PayPal can also be used, but the bank transfer option is quicker, more affordable and therefore more popular, she explained.
“When one parent is wondering when the next payment will come through from the other, it inherently causes tension and potential conflict,” MacMahon said. “[We focus on] making data entry very easy and seamless … and the fact that something can happen almost immediately — a request comes through and you’re able to pay it, and the other parent receives that payment in a really timely manner – reduces all of that friction. We also wanted to have the most cost-effective solution on the market for co-parents on a tight budget.”
It was important for Family Plan to enable custody calendar tracking and agreements, she added. Parents who use the app are also more secure should they become involved in a dispute that warrants judicial intervention, as the app keeps a comprehensive record of users’ messages, payments and other information – all of which are admissible in court.
Family Plan is currently only available in Canada and the United States, but there are plans to take the product global. MacMahon believes this will not require much adjustment, as the app is designed to work alongside local regulations in multiple jurisdictions, while also accommodating partnership agreements between parents and their lawyers.
“People are getting divorced all over world,” she said. “People are people, no matter the language they speak. They’re all having the same issues.”
MacMahon added that Family Plan’s expansion isn’t just geographical. The app has also seen strong demand from former partners who share pets, a group that needs to similarly coordinate custody schedules and handle payments like vet bills.
Divorcees can find communicating over finances to be a tense experience, and that is true regardless of whether they are paying for pets or children. Solutions that ensure each party is quickly and fairly compensated can help ex-partners heal and focus on their families.