Using Tech to De-Stress Child Support

Unhappy couples often think their problems will be over as soon as their divorce decree is final, says Sheri Atwood, a child of divorce and a divorced parent herself. But when kids are involved, the ex-spouses may still be locked in a testy, ongoing dialogue about money—the issue that may have driven them apart in the first place, Atwood says.

“It doesn’t get better, it gets worse,” says the former Silicon Valley marketing executive, who founded her own Santa Clara, CA-based business in 2011 to see if technology could ease the tension between divorced parents. She wanted to create an online platform where former spouses could track their children’s expenses and coordinate cost sharing on neutral ground.

As Atwood did her preliminary research on the Web, she was stunned to find no direct competitors to the service she eventually created, called SupportPay. While a raft of online systems support chores such as personal accounting, tax preparation, banking, shopping, and hiring, none was set up to manage the complex financial interactions between parents raising a child apart, she says.

“There’s this whole segment of the market that technology has ignored,” says Atwood,  CEO of her company, Ittavi. While there’s already a selection of online tools that help with all the legal paperwork around getting a divorce, Atwood believes SupportPay is the first online service designed to help deal with the aftermath.

Most people are aware that typical court-sanctioned divorce and custody agreements call for a set monthly payment to the parent with primary custody, to cover the children’s basic needs such as shelter and food. But often, court orders also require each parent to pay a certain share of the children’s other expenses, ranging from haircuts to school fees and doctors’ bills, Atwood says.

Each category can become a separate battleground, reviving the couple’s fundamental conflicts about money and values. Children are often caught in the middle of these face-to-face arguments, Atwood says.

“When you share custody, the only time you see each other is when you’re exchanging the child,” she says. Children may witness tiffs about missed payments and contested expenses.

Ittavi CEO Sheri Atwood

Ittavi CEO Sheri Atwood

SupportPay was designed to take these gripes online, offer mechanisms to resolve them, and facilitate payments. Atwood’s company, Ittavi, has been beta-testing the platform since January with about a hundred parents. Ittavi announced the public launch of the product Oct. 17 at the DEMO Conference in Santa Clara, CA. The full version of SupportPay costs $19.99 per month, which includes a mobile app. A more limited version is free.

Using SupportPay, each parent can enter receipts for their expenditures, record payments they’ve made to the other parent, and see a running tally of any net balance they owe, or that is owed to them. When a payment doesn’t arrive on time, SupportPay automatically sends a polite reminder. The account keeps track of both the set monthly child support payment and the additional expenses. The parents can also store important support-related documents on the site, which uses the cloud storage, software, and security measures of Salesforce.com’s service Force.com.

Atwood says that when she interviewed mothers during the beta-testing period, their most frequent comment was, “The other parent has no idea how expensive these kids really are.”

When she asked fathers—the majority of child support payers—why they would resist sending a check, many said they wanted to be sure the money was being spent on their children, not on purchases for their ex-wives.

The detailed records kept on SupportPay provide evidence of … Next Page »

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The Author

Bernadette Tansey is Xconomy's San Francisco Editor. You can reach her at btansey@xconomy.com.

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  • Angel

    I currently use a system that is contracted through the local family court, called “OurFamilyWizard”, which is technologically outdated and is not very user friendly AT ALL. It costs $99 per year to use, and is often “required” by the court following a custody battle. Any improvement to that system would be more than welcome from us users. That being said, $20 per month is more than I can afford as a now single mom of a soon-to-be going into kindergarten 4.5 year old, and an unemployed ex–and I am a marketing manager for a law firm.

    • Sheri Atwood

      Angel – While OurFamilyWizard is great to track communications we are really focused on the finance side of the divorce / child support area. Right now SupportPay is free and wont cost you a thing to register or use the product. In addition, in the future we are willing to work with parents, like yourself, to find a price point that meets your budget. Please try SupportPay and let us know what you think. You can send us a note at help@supportpay.com or you can contact me directly at sheri@supportpay.com.