While divorce can complicate parenting, a slew of new websites have cropped up to help manage the logistical details. An entire cottage industry has sprung up around the "good divorce"—as I recently wrote in the New York Observer. SupportPay.com is one of these. Launched in 2013, the site currently helps about 35,000 parents manage their child support payments, and ideally, their emotions. I caught up with founder Sheri Atwood, a former Silicon Valley exec, to learn how SupportPay might help you.
Wendy Paris: What made you want to quit your good job and start on Internet company about child support?
Sheri Atwood: I’m a child of a horrific divorce. When I faced my own divorce, after six years of marriage, with a newborn baby, I realized I didn’t want to raise my child in that kind of relationship.
My ex and I swore it would be amicable, and it was. I did it myself. It cost us about $350. We went out to have a beer afterward. The divorce turned out to be the easy part; nobody talks about what happens after divorce. Child support is a monthly payment, but it’s the one thing in life you don’t get a bill for. I was having to constantly remind him, to be a bill collector, on top of being an executive in Silicon Valley and a single mom.
Also, all the conversations you have as a married couple over things you don’t agree on, you then have to make these same decisions with someone you no longer love or like. Braces or no braces? Gymnastics? Dance? Piano lessons? Oh wait, she lost her glasses. Who pays for the replacement?
Wendy Paris: How does SupportPay help parents makes these decisions?
SA: We’re separating the emotions from the data. Say our agreement is that we split expenses 50/50. I record that I paid for gymnastics, which is $100/month. He pays for soccer, which is $50. So he owes me $25. Support Pay sends the bill. Now it’s not me asking my ex for money; it’s the receipt coming from Macy’s. It’s about the child again, and not about the emotions around money.
If a parent disagrees with an item, he can dispute it, and say why, and how much he’s willing to pay. The conversation happens online. If they can’t agree, that one item is marked and then they can take it to a mediator to dispute that one item, or a judge or their lawyer.
Parents are 90-percent more likely to exchange child support, using our system. This is based on what our users were doing before and what they’re doing now. We also provide the certified records that child support has been paid. A lot of parents don’t realize that if they don’t have a record of their child support payments, they are liable. An ex-wife can say she didn’t receive the payment. We’re a third party with proof of payment.
WP: What does it cost?
SA: Either parent can use the product for free, whether or not the other parent uses it. They can see six months of payment history, and do limited transactions, and have some limited payment options. With the monthly subscription they get more. The promo is $8 a month each. The list price is currently $9.99 per month.
About 60 percent of our users are both parents. The other 40 percent is one parent using it to keep track of receipts, usually as proof to go back to court or to file a modification. Say a dad lost his job or his income has declined dramatically. He wants to have records of what he’s paying for, so he can go back to the judge and say, ‘Hey, I’ve made these payments. I just can’t afford this now.’ Or a person tracks their own expenses to get their order decreased.
WP: Would this have helped your parents?
SA: Absolutely. At least it would have let my mother document how much it really cost to raise us. For me, as a kid, it would have made a difference to be able to see what my dad really did or did not contribute. Maybe he did pay, and I’ll never know.
I believe people want to support their kids. But maybe they’re only making $3,000 per month, and are ordered to pay $2,000 per month. It’s too much. The system is set up where you either pay or you don’t. Not, “Hey, this month is really tight. Can I give you half this month?” The system doesn’t give them a way to do that. Our system does. If you can’t contribute everything, contribute something.
Involved parents pay child support. We err on the side of marketing to dads. We don’t want to be seen as the nagging ex. We try to take away the excuses.
Wendy Paris: Thanks so much. This sounds really helpful.
* This post originally appeared on Wendy Paris's website, wendyparis.com.
Wendy Paris is the author of Splitopia: Dispatches from Today's Good Divorce and How to Part Well (Simon & Schuster/Atria, 2016). Splitopia and her work on divorce have been covered by The New York Times, Real Simple, The Washington Post, The New York Post, The Globe & Mail, Psychology Today, The Houston Chronicle, Salon.com, Parents.com, Family Law Quarterly, PsychCentral.com and radio and TV shows nationwide. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Columbia University, and is an advocate for family law reform. She is divorced, and lives in Santa Monica, California, a few blocks from her former husband, with whom she has a warm co-parenting relationship.