If you’re separated, divorced or were never married, co parenting will be one of the most stressful things you’ll do. Some people cobble together a collection of everyday tools like Gmail, iCal and excel to reduce co parenting stress and streamline coparenting activity. Some divorce-specific apps document communication, track custody and expenses to prepare for litigation, while a new generation of tools that offer live, on-demand mediation which has been proven to decrease stress, keep you focused on your kids and, out of court. These apps cost $10-$13 bucks a month, which, if you avoid a single court visit over 5 years will pay for itself many times over. And, as you’d expect, there are free options out there, too.

In this economy, it’s understandable to want a free co-parenting app. But if we’ve learned anything, free is never really free. In fact, ‘free’ may be the most expensive (and invasive) business model there is.

Companies need to make money to offer products and services. That part is simple enough. But the truth is, sometimes these companies are not as up-front about how they make money, as we parents would like.  

Whether it’s money, privacy or tech-safety, understanding the actual cost of free apps is important if you want to protect yourself and your family.  Here are some ways that ‘free’ may be far more expensive than the price tag says.

Charging for your message/communication records

Most free coparenting apps document messages with your ex to ‘Eliminate the He Said/She Said’.  But believe us, there’s nothing free about it. If you ever need a copy of your messages (like, if you end up in court),  you’ll pay through the nose to get a print-out of your message history. Some ‘free’ apps charge as much as $40 for a single print-out!  Plan ahead and save yourself the trouble (and expense) of having to pay a ransom for kidnapped copies of your own conversations.

Selling your private information

coParenting is deeply personal and private. Most coparents trust that their information will stay confidential. But when you use a free co parenting app, there‘s a high likelihood your data, personal information and private conversations are being sold to advertisers who want to target vulnerable users.  We’re all used to ‘free’ tools like Facebook, Insta, Snap, and Gmail selling our data. Some even have intelligence that ‘read’ your messages to better target advertising! The question to ask yourself is: Am I really willing to trade personal information about my divorce, my coparenting relationship and my kids just to save a couple of bucks?  Us neither.

Pushing Lawyers on Your Parenting

Family lawyers are way too expensive for most of us to afford and often can’t produce the results we expect. But lawyers know that when a parent is emotional or angry, they’re far more likely to think about hiring one. So, some ‘free’ co parenting apps sell invasive advertising to local lawyers looking to get their name in front of vulnerable parents. What starts as birthday planning, requesting a weekend swap or making holiday plans turns into a shopping list of lawyers who would just loooove to take on your case. It’s inappropriate, invasive and it’s exactly how many ‘free’ coparenting apps monetize their users.  There’s a time and place lawyers to market themselves, but we can all agree that it ain’t while we’re trying to coparent.  

Hackers & Malware

Here’s one from the Big Book of the Super Obvious: Hackers do not care about you or your kids.  Hackers know you’re emotional and vulnerable– and will take advantage where and when they can. Hackers HACK!  It’s very common for hackers to lure unsuspecting users with a ‘free’ app and then use that app as an entry point to access the rest of your phone.  And if you- or your identity- has ever been hacked, you already know that this alone is a reason to avoid using free coparenting apps.

What to do if you’ve been court-ordered to use a FREE coparenting app

Judges will occasionally order parents to use co-parenting apps that document messages so they can see who said what, without having to take one person’s word for it. Judges aren’t known for their technical prowess will often order free co-parenting apps, simply because they’re free- without considering the dangers.  If you’ve been ordered to use a free co-parenting app and don’t want to put yourself (or your family) at risk, most judges will accept an agreement, showing that you and your ex agree to use- and pay for- a different app.

One way or another, you’re going to pay to use a co parenting app. You’ll either pay with your time, attention, privacy… or with cash. Whichever you chose, it’s important to be informed and make the decision with eyes-wide-open. Because the promise of free will often rob you blind.