Divorced? Fighting over the kids? There’s an app for that
▶ Support pay helps automate divorce money management ▶ Parents can make payments and “never have a conversation”
When Sheri Atwood is pitching you, she leads with the divorces. Her parents’ was horrific, a hostile split where the couple saw each other only in court and the kids were stuck in the middle of money battles. After her own divorce, Atwood was surprised when money, again, frayed an otherwise amicable relationship with her ex. It was during one of those squabbles that she got the idea for Supportpay, an app that lets parents automate the divvying up of child- care costs and can help mediate conflicts.
Child support agreements typically require that parents divide, along with such basics as food, clothing, and shelter, other expenses as they come up, from medical bills to hobbies and extracurriculars. These can create the most confrontations between parents: Does little Liam really need a math tutor? Is his soccer camp worth $700 a week? With Supportpay, parents can upload receipts, send or pay bills through Paypal, and “never have a conversation,” says Atwood.
The app lets parents dispute expenses before paying them, as long as they can provide reasons and propose alternatives. A judge has final say, but the app is designed to prevent these fights from ending up in court.
Olivia Haugher, a Southern California mother of three who uses Supportpay, says the two-year-old app has kept occasional skirmishes with her ex-husband over money away from the kids. “It basically has helped us communicate better,” she says. It’s also reduced frustrations over forgotten checkbooks or missed e-mails. Plus, “he gets to see how expensive the kids are.”
Parents who can be slow to write checks often just want to be sure the money’s really going to the kids, says Ryan Falvey, managing director at the Center for Financial Services Innovation. Last year the Chicagobased nonprofit named Supportpay the winner of a competition among digital services helping families manage strained finances. “This might be where technology can solve things in a big way, just by connecting people to information,” Falvey says.
Atwood’s company, Ittavi, estimates that Supportpay’s 36,000 users (up from 12,000 a year ago) will send $900 million through the app this year. Based in Santa Clara, Calif., it has nine
full-time employees, is running on $3 million in venture funding, and is raising $3 million to $5 million more, says Atwood, the chief executive officer. That should be enough to last, she says, until Ittavi is profitable.
Supportpay’s free version lets people keep six months of records. About 1 in 4 users pays $120 for a year’s subscription to a premium version with longer-term recordkeeping and e-mail alerts, or $156 a year for the “legal” version, which includes documents for court and tax filings and shares records with attorneys or mediators.
If divorced couples end up back in court, those records are crucial, says Derek Austin, a divorce attorney who’s advised Supportpay. Parents need to be able to prove that they’ve made every required child support payment, or else courts can demand back payments and garnish their wages. Austin says the app is a less harsh alternative that still ensures the money arrives on time. “I use it as a tool to manage relationships,” he says.
Atwood says her team is working on adding payment options and features such as calendars and contact lists. The app will also let users connect bank accounts for financial planning purposes (a college fund, say) without necessarily revealing everything to their exes, she says.
Often, though, Supportpay just helps keep things simple, says Andrew Williams, a father of four from Modesto, Calif. He says he gets along with his ex-wife but uses Supportpay to organize the documents they share—their divorce agreement, their children’s school bills, even report cards. “Now everything is centralized,” he says.
Their child support agreement expires in July when their youngest son turns 18, but Williams says he’ll still use the app to keep his finances straight—and to keep sharing the cost of the family dogs, a 9-year-old pug and a 5-year-old German shepherd that live with him. For now, he says, “I’m paying her child support, and she’s paying dog support.” �Ben Steverman
The bottom line About 1 in 4 of Supportpay’s 36,000 users pays at least $120 a year for the divorce micromanagement app.