Our Family Wizard: A New Solution to an Old Problem

family arguing in kitchen

Divorce and relationship breakdown is hard on everyone involved. While it is hard on the spouses, it is especially difficult on any children involved. People often do and say things that they are not proud of when their lives are in turmoil.

Just one of the reasons that divorce is especially difficult for parents (and their children) is that the relationship with the other parent continues indefinitely. You will share all of your child’s major events and accomplishments for the rest of their lives. This includes birthdays, graduations, first jobs, first cars, first girlfriends or boyfriends, weddings, births and grandchildren. In most cases, the major events and accomplishments of grandchildren are also shared. For this reason, it is important that you and your ex-spouse find a way to work together, continue to raise your family as co-parents, and share the major events and accomplishments amicably.

Our Family Wizard is a computer and phone application that is meant to help parents co-parent effectively and work toward sharing your children’s and grandchildren’s major events and accomplishments amicably. With the help of Our Family Wizard and similar applications, parents can schedule and track parenting time, share family information and manage expenses for the children. Our Family Wizard and other similar applications also have the added feature of recording all communications between the parties so that a complete and accurate log of communication is available to review by the court if necessary.

In British Columbia, the court has referred to Our Family Wizard on occasion. While the court appears to be of the opinion that it is beneficial for parents to use Our Family Wizard or some other equivalent (such as Co-Parently), they are not very quick to order that parties get it.

One of the main issues between the parties is always who will pay for the service. The cost of Our Family Wizard, according to their website, is $99.00 USD for a one year subscription or $179.00 USD for a two year subscription. A cost that is very reasonable relative to the other costs associated with divorce.

For example, in DLT v. KKM, 2015 BCSC 1771, the father sought an order that the parties use only Our Family Wizard to communicate. At paragraphs 273 to 278, the Honourable Madam Justice Gray had this to say about Our Family Wizard (at paragraphs 273 to 278):

[273] The Father seeks to have the parties communicate using a commercial online tool known as the “Our Family Wizard Website”. This costs $99 per parent per year, and is apparently based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the U.S.A. It has a feature entitled “tone feature” which it describes as being like an “emotional spell-check”. It has the capacity to allow independent parties such as psychologists or parenting coordinators to access information.

[274] The Father is willing to pay the cost for both himself and the Mother to use the Our Family Wizard Website for the first year. The Mother is willing to try the Our Family Wizard Website if I suggest that, on the basis that the Father will pay the cost. Otherwise, the Mother would prefer to use email for communication between the parties.

[275] The court is not in the position to endorse commercial products or to compare what may be commercially available. Madam Justice Ross made an order providing for the use of the Our Family Wizard Website in Krupa v. Krupa, 2008 BCSC 414 (CanLII). However, that term was by the consent of the parties, and the specifics of the website were not discussed by Madam Justice Ross in her reasons for judgment.

[276] During the course of the trial, I suggested that the parties should look into the www.newways4families.com website. It includes some information for free and also courses and other information available upon payment of a fee. In particular, I suggest that the parties consider what is available concerning the “BIFF response method” for responding to hostile emails, texts and other communications in a brief, informative, friendly, and firm manner.

[277] The Our Family Wizard Website appears to be worth a try for these parties. Since the Father is willing to pay the total cost for one year, the Mother should participate.

[278] I order as follows regarding communication:

a) The parties shall communicate regarding JT through www.ourfamilywizard.com. The parties are each ordered to visit the website and enroll in the program for a one-year subscription not later than 10 calendar days from today, and after that, to visit the website at least once every 48 hours. The parties shall thereafter conduct all communications regarding shared parenting matters using the website’s features, except regarding emergencies as discussed below. The Father shall reimburse the Mother for the cost of the first year’s subscription.

b) The parties shall utilize the Messaging feature only when information cannot be conveyed in the Calendar, Expense, and Info Bank features of the Our Family Wizard Website.

c) The parties shall not communicate by telephone or text messaging or email except for matters of an emergency nature regarding JT (including but not limited to medical emergencies or unavoidable delays in picking up or dropping JT off due to traffic, accident, or the like) that must be acted upon in less than 48 hours. In the case of such an emergency, both parties shall make a Journal entry about the subject and general content of any such communication in the Calendar feature of the Our Family Wizard Website.

d) The parties shall use the Our Family Wizard Website pay expense feature to record and formalize all potentially reimbursable expenses in order to reduce the need to go to court in the future over such matters. Each party shall attach an electronic file of the receipt for payment to each request or record. Each parent shall preserve the original of any scanned or photographed document posted.

e) Both parties will enable viewing of all entries to any lawyer acting on behalf of either party and any parenting coordinator or other person authorized by the court or agreed upon in writing by the parties.

f) The use of the Our Family Wizard Website shall remain in effect for one year from today, at which point it will continue if the parties agree in writing or the court so orders. If it does not continue, the parties will use email for all communications regarding shared parenting matters, except regarding emergencies as discussed below, and each party will maintain an email address which they will access at least once every 48 hours.

g) Each party will provide the other party within seven days of this order with an email address and a telephone number which permits immediate text messaging and telephone calls, and each party will at all times maintain an email address and a telephone number with that capacity without blocking the other parent. A landline which does not permit text messaging is not sufficient. Each party will advise the other forthwith of any changes to the number or address.

h) Each party will use the other party’s telephone number only for matters of an emergency nature regarding JT (including but not limited to medical emergencies or unavoidable delays in picking up or dropping JT off due to traffic, accident, or the like) which must be acted upon in less than 48 hours.

The following BC cases also reference Our Family Wizard or other similar applications: Krupa v. Krupa, 2008 BCSC 414; NRF v. MAF 2015 BCPC 32 (Coparently); Nitnawre v. Jagtap, 2015 BCSC 1562 (parties ordered to use Coparently).

In Ontario, the courts have been referencing Our Family Wizard and other applications to aid in co-parenting more often. Specifically, in Izyuk v. Bilousov, 2011 ONSC 6451 the court ordered that communications should be through Our Family Wizard and the cost should be paid by the father. With respect to the father’s request, the court states at paragraphs 481 and 482,

481. The Respondent proposed a creative solution to deal with communication problems between the parties: An interactive website known as Our Family Wizard. He explained that at a cost of about $100.00 per year for each parent, they can use the various functions of Our Family Wizard to exchange written communications, address timesharing, schedule medical appointments, coordinate purchases and section 7 contributions — even exchange photographs of the child. He cited court decisions in which this computer program has been endorsed.

482. He acknowledged no communication mode can overcome mistrust and animosity. But he suggested that because Our Family Wizard maintains a permanent record of everything either party says, the format encourages child-focused discussions, and discourages negative or destructive comments.

Slightly more recently, the court considered the viability of using Our Family Wizard in LL v. MC, 2012 ONSC 3311. It was ordered that the parties were to keep each other advised of day to day decisions about the child through Our Family Wizard. They were also to provide travel information about the child, keep each other informed about health benefits and changes to health benefits, they were to post their parenting schedule in Our Family Wizard and limit other communications to Our Family Wizard unless there is an emergency.

It was ordered in LL v. MC that the parties share the cost of Our Family Wizard equally. Finally it was ordered that if any further parenting issue is brought to court, the communication through Our Family Wizard will copied and filed with the court, all documents would be shared through Our Family Wizard and any concerns either has about what the child tells them will be through Our Family Wizard. Beginning at paragraph 93, the court had this to say about Our Family Wizard:

[93] Both parents are bright and articulate, and they came to trial well prepared. The evidence and their presentation highlighted their differences.

[94] For the most part, they were civil in court and largely kept their composure in a difficult situation.

[95] While I am satisfied that they both love J and J loves them, they are markedly different people.

[96] Courts, judges and all who deal with parenting issues have struggled with appropriate orders for high-conflict families with a view to providing an arrangement that looks to optimize a relationship for the child and each parent that meets the child’s best interests while trying to minimize the opportunities for conflict that is contrary to a child’s best interests.

[97] Over the years we look for new solutions for families who have not been able to set aside their views of the other parent and achieve a method of civil, respectful and child-focused communication. The question is whether joint custody should be ordered for parents who have a poor history of communication, compromise, civility and joint decision-making. All of us want the parents to have maximum contact, to have meaningful relationships with their children, and to consult one another. At times judges have opted to allow for joint custody with the best intention that once the litigation is over the parties will be cooperative, communicate respectfully and appropriately.

[98] We have devised new parenting strategies such as the use of parenting coordinators, parallel parenting, multidirectional orders, and the list continues.

[99] We have created methods of communication that include the traditional hard notebook, pen or pencil, and written communication log that travels with the child’s backpack or overnight luggage. There is also the more technologically current texting, emailing, tweeting, or internet based programmes such as Our Family Wizard.

[100] E-mails in this case, as in many others, have, I find, often been used as a method of abusive, demanding, and controlling communication.

The following Ontario cases also reference Our Family Wizard or other similar applications and on occasion the parties are ordered to use them: Sergueeva v. Currie, 2010 ONSC 1562 (earlier order at case conference for parties to use OFW); Hsiung v. Tsioutsioulas, 2011 ONCJ 517 (parties ordered to communicate via OFW); Palumbo v. Palumbo, 2011 ONSC 4925 (parties ordered to communicate via emails, texts, communication books or Our family Wizard); Walters v. Walters, 2012 ONSC 1845 (parties ordered to discuss all decisions involving the child through the OFW); Schill v. Schill, 2012 ONSC 3503 (earlier consent order that communication will be through OFW, ordered to continue); Schill v. Schill, 2012 ONSC 5103 (earlier order that communications be through OFW); Bennett v. Bennett 2012 ONSC 5251 (parties ordered to communicate by email or OFW); Sader v. Kekki, 2013 ONCJ 605 (parties ordered to use OFW or other program); Children’s Aid Society of Halton Region v. JS, 2013 ONCJ 608 (parties may attempt to use OFW to communicate about children); Suchanek v. Lavoie, 2014 ONCJ 39 (mother ordered to choose between OFW and book); Milford v. Catherwood, 2014 ONCJ 276 (OFW recommended, no order); Potter v. DaSilva, 2014 ONCJ 302 (parties mayuse OFW); Izyuk v. Bilousov, 2014 ONSC 915 (earlier order that parties use OFW); Hunt v. Vallee, 2014 ONSC 3168 (parties strongly encouraged to use OFW); Wentges v. Faiz, 2014 ONSC 3583 (earlier order that parties use OFW); CVW v. MWMP, 2014 ONSC 4439 (parties strongly encouraged to use OFW); Umeya v. Tebit, 2014 ONSC 4887 (parties ordered to use OFW, called a positive step toward effective parenting); Fisher v. Fisher, 2014 ONSC 4941 (parties may agree to use OFW or Joint P
arents); Alfredo Ciarlariello v. Annina Iuele-Ciarlariello, 2014 ONSC 5097 (parties ordered to use OFW); CR v. PR, 2014 ONSC 5383 (parties ordered to use OFW); Hosein v. Dhamoon, 2014 ONSC 5391 (mother refuses to sign up for OFW); Valettas v. Chrissanthakopoulos, 2014 ONSC 5962 (mother ordered to register for OFW pursuant to parenting plan); Hlady v. O’Neil, 2014 ONSC 6835 (order that scripts of communications recorded by the OFW will be evidence in any future proceedings); Plugers v. Krasnay, 2014 ONSC 7078 (parties ordered to use OFW); Keown v. Procee, 2014 ONSC 7314 (OFW designed to decrease conflict but was not able to do so in this case); Clayson-Martin v. Martin, 2014 ONSC 7530 (parties ordered to register with either OFW or coparently, to share costs and to make transcripts of conversations available for future court appearances); Adams v. Adams, 2015 ONCJ 4; ordered parties to communicate through website unless emergency phone necessary, expense shared jointly; different time lines for different types of communications laid out; Mills v. Hackey, 2015 ONCJ 239 (parents told to consider using OFW); McKoy v. McKoy, 2015 ONCJ 259 (parties ordered to investigate OFW); Bolotnov v. Moldavski, 2015 ONCJ 530 (parties consent to use OFW); Webster v. Suteu, 2015 ONCJ 538 (parties may use OFW instead of communication book); DB v. RS, 2015 ONCJ 587 (parties ordered to us OFW or other program, cost paid by father); Ene v. Ene, 2015 ONSC 867 (parties ordered to use OFW); Fias v. Souto, 2015 ONSC 880 (mother signed up for OFW); Di Bratto v. Sebastiao, 2015 ONSC 1996 (wife unreasonably refused to use OFW, parties ordered to use OFW); Van de hoef v. Lafond, 2015 ONSC 2856 (parties ordered to use OFW); Vieira v. Vieira, 2015 ONSC 2928 (parties ordered to use OFW); L v. L, 2015 ONSC 3650 (communication limited to OFW); Di Bratto v Sebastiao, 2015 ONSC 3979 (use of OFW called minor); K. v. K., 2015 ONSC 4345 (wife may get OFW); Leggatt v. Leggatt, 2015 ONSC 4502 (previous order that use OFW, wife may only contact child through OFW); Figliano v. Figliano, 2015 ONSC 5017 (parties ordered to use OFW or similar program); Docherty v. Catherwood, 2015 ONSC 5240 (declined to order OFW); Woronowicz v. Conti, 2015 ONSC 5247 (previous order that use OFW); Matle v. Panek et al, 2015 ONSC 5706 (parties recommended to use OFW); Kavanagh v. Shiels, 2015 ONSC 5815 (example of a tool to keep other party informed); Verdon v. Verdon, 2015 ONSC 6402 (parties ordered to use OFW); DB v. RS, 2016 ONCJ 11 (previous order that parties use OFW); THE v. GJR, 2016 ONCJ 156 (if agree, parties may use OFW); Heuer v. Heuer, 2016 ONCJ 201 (parties use OFW); Weeres v. Weeres, 2016 ONSC 861 (parties agree to use OFW); Corriveau v. Richardson, 2016 ONSC 1248 (parties consent to using OFW); JK v. WRN, 2016 ONSC 3179 (consent order that parties use OFW); Ruffudeen v. Coutts, 2016 ONSC 3359 (recommended that parties use OFW); and LL v. MC, 2016 ONSC 3817 (previous order that use OFW).

Unlike in BC where the court has frequently tried to avoid ordering the use of Our Family Wizard or similar applications, in other Canadian jurisdictions, the courts have discussed Our Family Wizard and other similar applications and on occasion ordered that spouses use the programs as follows:

In Alberta,

  1. Vashisht v. Gupta, 2008 ABQB 285 (parties ordered to use website);
  2. Thie v. Thie, 2014 ABQC 286 (mother ordered to update father via message on website);
  3. AJU v. GSU, 2015 ABQB 6 (parties ordered to attempt communication through OFW, each paying own cost);
  4. Busch v. Busch, 2015 ABQB 761 (parties ordered to use it to schedule parenting time);
  5. Nyberg v. Nyberg, 2015 ABQB 768 (parties ordered to commence using OFW, purchased by father);
  6. Ralstin v. Hupalo, 2016 ABQB 47 (expert recommended that parties use OFW as a tool to assist in sharing information and communicating generally); and
  7. Rensonnet v. Uttl, 2016 ABQB 95 (suggested by husband that parties use OFW).

In Saskatchewan, Chernoff v. Chernoff, 2014 SKQB 139 (court commented would be good if parties looked into OFW or similar website for communications).

In Manitoba,

  1. Belot v. Connelly, 2013 MBQC 98 (earlier order provided that parties use OFW, mother refused to put app on phone, ordered that only communicate via text messages for emergencies and OFW to be used for all other discussions relating to child);
  2. Delichte v. Rogers, 2013 MBCA 106 (earlier order provided that parties use OFW);
  3. Holt v. Holt, 2014 MBQB 56 (parties ordered to use OFW);
  4. Harkness v. Debiuk, 2015 MBQB 19 (purchased by father to communicate with mother but no orders made);
  5. Delichte v. Rogers, 2015 MBQB 74 (earlier order not followed and one party let membership lapse); and
  6. Sedleski v. Emery, 2016 MBQB 104 (parties tried to use OFW to no avail).

In Nova Scotia,

  1. Doucette v. Kelleher, 2005 NSSC 92 (parties should consider using OFW);
  2. Quigley v. Willmore, 2008 NSSC 353 (interim order that parties use OFW);
  3. Clark v. Saberi, 2012 NSSC 310 (mother ordered to set up OFW or another program to allow virtual visitation);
  4. Anderson v. Renzettie, 2012 NSSC 361 (ordered that parties have no contact other than OFW for urgent situation);
  5. Denninger v. Ross, 2013 NSSC 237 (parties must communicate through OFW or similar program, parties share costs of purchasing and maintaining the program);
  6. Salah v. Salah, 2013 NSSC 308 (recommended that parties continue to use OFW);
  7. Lethbridge v. Lythgoe, 2015 NSSC 136 (parties agree to use OFW);
  8. Vaculik v. Vaculik, 2015 NSSC 202 (previous order that parties use OFW, no contact order made).

Our Family Wizard themselves have a draft court order language that they suggest you use. It is found here: https://www.ourfamilywizard.com/sites/default/files/pdfs/Model_Language8.13.pdf


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