Divorce? There's an app for that
Published: Sunday, December 2, 2012 at 2:22 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 2, 2012 at 4:59 p.m.
Modern technology is putting many married couples a mouse click away from divorce proceedings as they are lured by social networking websites linking them to other people or tempted by sexually explicit text-messaging.
But innovation may also be picking up the pieces of broken relationships.
A slew of online programs offer to smooth conflicts about money, child custody and scheduling. E-mail provides written proof of agreements while reducing distortions. And text-messaging helps ex-spouses avoid awkward face-to-face meetings.
Among the latest ideas is an app from a Santa Rosa man that helps bickering couples divide assets. George Moskoff came up with iSplit Divorce after going through his own divorce last year.
The program distills complex negotiations to a kind of video game in which community property is assigned a value and an icon. Users drag and drop the icons across an iPad screen until they achieve an acceptable result.
Most settlements can be done in 30 minutes, Moskoff said.
"It makes the process more efficient and less painful," said the out-of-work contractor.
As websites and modern gadgetry become embedded in the social fabric, so, too, are they emerging as factors in marital unrest.
Widespread access to sites like Facebook and the popularity of things like texting contribute to the divorce rate, which hovers around 50 percent.
In fact, Facebook has become a leading source for divorce evidence, according to a study by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. More than 66 percent of attorneys said it was their primary source for incriminating pictures and notes followed by Myspace and Twitter.
Santa Rosa divorce attorney Carol Gorenberg said the sites are a frequent topic of dispute. Recent clients include a woman who found her husband courting other women on dating websites and a man who discovered pictures of his wife having sex with another man on her cell phone.
"In earlier generations, it happened in other ways," said Gorenberg. "As always, it's very painful for the person who finds it."
But she said digital products can also be helpful in repairing the damage. Moskoff's app is a good start for divorces that don't involve a lot of separate property, she said.
Use of email can head-off contentious meetings or bring clarity to what each side is saying. Exchanges often wind up as part of the court record, she said.
People waiting for their cases to be called this week outside Sonoma County's divorce court agreed e-mail was the preferred method of communicating with an ex-spouse. Some said it was the only way because restraining orders prevented any closer contact.
"Text-messaging helps me avoid long, drawn-out conversations with my ex," said former Petaluma resident Stephen Akers, who was in court on a child custody matter. "It's short and to the point."
Technology can assist in more than just untangling a parting couple's finances. A slew of websites are devoted to everything from managing child visits to helping the newly single cope.
The online share tool Our Family Wizard was created for child-related issues. Ex-spouses can set pickup and drop-off times and request reimbursement for expenses without personal encounters.
All activity can be monitored by the court, leaving little room for ambiguity or miscommunication, said Bryan Altman, chief operating officer of the Minnesota-based site that is used across the country including in Sonoma County.
"If I'm a parent coordinator or judge, I don't have to decide who I'm going to believe that day," Altman said. "I can simply go to the site and see exactly where things broke down."
Like many programs, Wizard has an app for iPhones and Andriods.
"It makes life easier," Altman said.
Although many jurisdictions require participation in such online programs, Sonoma County does not.
Santa Rosa child psychologist Daniel Pickar would like to see that change. Pickar said Our Family Wizard and other digital tools such as email are helpful with high-conflict parents who might get into arguments or twist the truth.
Communication can be copied to third parties, such as co-parents, for mediation.
"For a lot of families it can be a very important rule to use email to avoid fights in front of the children," Pickar said.
ISplit was envisioned as a way to avoid the kind of shouting matches many couples get into when dividing their possessions.
Moskoff created it after divorcing his wife of 25 years. It dawned on him that jotting down all their community property on index cards didn't help much.
He came up with the app when he found out he was just one of about a million American who go through it each year.
It allows spouses to divide cars, furniture, investments, home mortgages and credit cards with an eye toward achieving a 50-50 split.
Property is dragged across a quadrant and totals appear for each spouse.
"It takes the abstract concept of spreadsheets and puts it into visual form," Moskoff said. "It's a very right-brained thing."
After tweaking it to Apple's specifications, the app was approved and appeared in stores this fall. He's hoping for more than $1 million in annual sales.
"It's a very interesting niche," he said. "You might use it once or twice in your life. Then you're done."
You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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