Mobile payments platforms have seemingly attracted every major financial service and tech firm that can find a way to put the word “Pay” in its name. Virtual reality has captured hearts and minds in retail, social media and, of course, gaming — as this story is going to press, the entire world is waiting for the release of Super Mario Run. AI is making sure that soon no one will have to live in a world where they can’t regularly talk to their appliances.
And while it would be hard to draw a perfectly straight line between all of those things, certain common descriptions come popping up across them: “fun,” “neat” or “futuristic” are all favored go-to’s in the tech press. For good reason — if one is looking to create an innovation that is buzzy and prone to go viral, there are worse places to start than “fun,” “neat” and “futuristic.”
The problem is that the world is full of things that are none of the above — and are in most cases decidedly the opposite. Divorce and child custody payments fall into that category. Neither are natively cheery topics to start with — nor are they the type of things that tend to draw the attentions of what Sheri Atwood of SupportPay called the innovative class in Silicon Valley these days.
“It is a problem that impacts people typically over the age of 30 and those aren’t the people who are typically starting tech startups right now,” Atwood noted.
Atwood was one such affected person — when she found herself going through a divorce a few years ago. The divorce part, she noted, wasn’t all that onerous as the split was mostly amicable. Paying child support and sharing the expenses of a child — that was a whole other issue that actually had no easy solution.
So Atwood decided to build one. She left her corporate VP job at Symantec, took a year to teach herself to code and built the first solution to solve for it, called Support Pay.
The Payment Without A Bill
“After you divorce or separate you have a child support agreement — but it is the one absolutely necessary payment on Earth you don’t get a bill for. You just have to remember to pay it once a month — plus parents have additional expenses.” Atwood explained.
Divorces often end with child support and expense agreements, Atwood noted, but the court only rules how much one party must pay the other — the participants get no guidance as to how to make those payments happen other than working something out between them.
Which, on face, is not a great situation — since the parties that have just been ordered into that complex financial transaction have already demonstrated that they don’t have a great track record of working things out. Added to that, Atwood notes, is that ex-spouses with children often only directly interact when custody is being exchanged — which means child handoffs that should be about the kids instead become about the financial issues.
The fact that this was unacceptable was quickly clear to Atwood — but the reality was there simply were no solutions in the market on offer.
But, flying back from Singapore on a business trip, filling out an expense report, the solution presented itself to Atwood — partners in child support arrangements needed easy spreadsheet-like transfers of data — and a third party to mediate that exchange.
Building Support Pay
In attempting to build out the first web and mobile version of the Support Pay app, Atwood talked to lots of parents involved in child support arrangements — both on the receiving and paying side.
“And there is 99.9 percent agreement on one topic — kids cost money.”
She also found that payors are not hostile to paying money for their kids’ upkeep and support — but have a real problem paying money that goes on to “support their ex-spouse’s lifestyle.”
“Unfortunately, the person who does the reimbursing is often not the same as the person doing the shopping. So when your ex tells you that they need $100 for their half of a kid’s shoes — the paying partner will say ‘Oh no way.’ Now as it turns out, the person receiving usually isn’t looking for any more than is strictly necessary for raising their child — but again, kids aren’t free.”
So, SupportPay basically takes the direct interaction portion of this off of the table. Both partners sign-in and create a profile and then have access to their child support joint info. The paying partner has the option of creating a recurring monthly payment (for base child support), while the receiving partner has an area to fill in extra expenses (medical appointments, dance lessons, etc) and attach a receipt. Payment can be made via credit cards, PayPal or cash — ACH and debit are both coming soon.
The platform — perhaps most importantly, notes Atwood — also provides parents a way to dispute parts of payments while keeping the whole mechanism moving. If there is an expense the payor rejects, they can mark it rejected with both a reason for denial and a proposed solution. That message than travels back to the receiver — who can accept the solution or offer further explanation. That process can ping back and forth three times, according to Atwood, before it is marked for mediation. The rest of the payments, she notes, continue to flow unaffected through the system.
“We hear from a lot of parents who are fighting over a $100 pair of glasses — and we will hear from recipients that their ex-husbands have stopped paying entirely over that issue. These are disputes that have ended in $10K in legal bills fighting over a $100 pair of glasses. SupportPay really eliminates the need for that.”
Moreover, she notes, because the platform allows both parties to enter proof of expenses and payments — both parties get a certified record in the event they need more legal reminding going forward.
SupportPay is having a double-header of a big news week to end off the year. The firm is launching its redesigned mobile app this week, a follow-up to the launch of the redesigned web app a few weeks ago. The firm is also announcing a $4.1 million Series A investment round led by Fenway Summer Ventures with participation from Moneta Ventures, Continental Advisors LLC, and previous investors.
That money, she notes, will go toward expanding the firm. SupportPay now has a CTO — meaning Sheri Atwood can “possibly quit those 24 hour coding sessions” — and two other brand new full time players. They currently also have 8 positions available — and a host of interns coming online.
“We are looking to add 22 employees by the end of the year and 30 employees by the end of next year,” Atwood noted.
The platform will also continue to develop a way to mediate the ex-spouses’ payments relationship by adding direct third party payments — so that instead of reimbursing on a receipt, the paying spouse will instead have an option to pay a bill, or their potion of it, directly through the platform.
Divorce, more likely than not, will never really be a lot of fun — and no one will never call it neat.
But divorce can be amicable, Atwood noted — and technology can make it much more so.