Nova Scotia court orders divorcing couples to use Our Family Wizard app
Some family lawyers praise smartphone app for helping divorced couples communicate
Nova Scotia's Supreme Court Family Division is following the likes of other provincial courts by ordering some divorced couples to use the smartphone app Our Family Wizard to communicate.
The app helps divorced couples manage their parental responsibilities while living apart.
Our Family Wizard has several features: it allows parents to make child support payments through it, it includes an event calendar and provides its own secure email service.
"When I first heard about it I thought it was going to be a breakthrough and everybody was going to be using this," said Candee McCarthy, a senior staff lawyer with Nova Scotia Legal Aid.
The program can be used on a smartphone or any device connected to the internet.
Graham Verdon of Toronto is in the middle of a heated divorce. He and his estranged wife have been ordered by the court to use Our Family Wizard.
The pair started using the program a few months ago.
"I didn't think it was necessary, but I can see that it has value," said Verdon.
According to court documents, the app is usually only included in court orders when couples have a breakdown in communication and exes can't hold a civil face-to-face conversation.
"The main value that it has is that it works as, really, a living affidavit in that the emails that you exchange with the other party are recorded," said Verdon.
"So if it ever gets to that point where you, I guess you need that evidence, it's all there and can't really be muckied with."
Nova Scotia's Supreme Court Family Division does not keep track of how many people have been ordered to use the program.
Many family court decisions are delivered verbally and are not always followed up with a written decision available to the public. That makes it difficult to determine exactly how many people have been ordered to use the program.
In the written family court decisions that were available online, there were two cases where people were ordered to use the app in Nova Scotia.
In those cases, the app users didn't wish to talk about their experiences with the program.
Is it user friendly?
CBC News expanded its search and came across a written decision involving Graham Verdon, who was ordered by a court in Ontario to use the program.
Though he sees some value, he's not exactly sold on Our Family Wizard.
"It has helped our communication definitely on email, but I find the fact that we are reduced to just email, it's a difficult way to communicate in that it isn't very efficient."
He thinks the app is too expensive. It costs $99 US for a one-year subscription and he complained that the app's interface wasn't user friendly.
The Our Family Wizard website states that courts in five Canadian provinces and 50 states are ordering people to use its program.
Loved by lawyers
"This is one way that phone apps or computer programs can help us with the ever-increasing problem of the cost of litigation and family litigation and courts being tied up," said Candee McCarthy, a lawyer based in Sydney.
"To take at least the communication piece out of the lawyer's and the judge's hands a little bit and put it into the clients's hands."
McCarthy said the app's email system helps make communication between exes easier because it prevents people from altering or erasing emails after they've been sent.
That feature upholds honesty and prevents exes from ending up back in court, arguing over every little communication.
"Emailed messages cannot be doctored, manipulated or otherwise counterfeited," said Halifax family lawyer William Leahey.
"When you send a message through Our Family Wizard, the program itself creates an indelible, un-erasable record of when that message was sent, when it was read and the contents of the message so you can't manipulate it."
Leahey said the system helps build trust where it's badly needed.
When people know their actions are recorded, they tend to act more respectfully towards each other, he said, which can help make future conversations a little more friendly.
Emotions could be 'the downfall'
Both lawyers and Verdon agree that the program only works if both people involved in the divorce are committed to using it.
Angela Mercier has been seeing that first hand. She's a mediator and certified divorce financial analyst in Halifax.
"I believe the app is easy to use, but it also has to take time and energy because you have to put your information in there, you have to remember to use that to communicate and I think that's going to be the downfall," said Mercier.
"If someone is just not emotionally ready to deal with stuff it doesn't matter how many tools you put in front of them, if they're not willing to be participant in it they're not going to do it."