People sometimes complain that technology is preventing us from talking to each other face-to-face. But there are moments when communicating at a distance is a good thing—like when a married couple is going through a bitter divorce and kids are involved.
Sheri Atwood, the founder of SupportPay, a platform for managing childcare expenses, says keeping things as business-like as possible not only helps parents, it also keeps kids out of the firing line. And she should know. Her own parents went through a bitter divorce (Atwood ended up in foster care) and she also went through a divorce herself.
“When we had our own divorce a few years ago, I swore it would be amicable, because I didn’t want my daughter to go through the same thing I went through. And it was,” Atwood says. “We went out for a drink and signed the divorce papers and thought everything was easy. But then I realized that child support is the one thing in life you don’t get a bill for.”
Divorced couples need to agree a basic living budget for their kids, an agreement that’s normally sanctioned by court. But then there are many expenses, like gymnastics classes, new shoes and summer camps payments, that are off-plan. Atwood found that when she saw her ex-husband, the whole conversation would be dominated with “you owe me $50 for this”-type discussions that inevitably turned into arguments. Estranged parents will often think the other parent is lying about how much things cost, that they’ve overspent for something, or that they’re really using child support for their own needs, Atwood says.
California-based SupportPay leads the parties through the whole post-divorce process. Parents agree on monthly payments for basic living costs, then they can add in items (including receipts) as they come up. At the end of the month, each side gets a notification saying what the current state of play is, and how much everyone owes.
“It allows a transparency for both parents, eliminating the fighting over, ‘Is this item really for the kid?’” Atwood says.
Since launching, SupportPay has signed up 33,000 parents. The site has a freemium model: the basic services are free, but more sophisticated things, like downloading a report to present at court, costs money. The current price is $9.95 a month.
SupportPay is one of nine startups on the Financial Solutions Lab program, a new program for socially-minded financial technology startups. It seems like a clever use of technology to avoid unnecessary conflicts.