A child of divorce herself, tech executive Sheri Atwood was surprised when her own divorce from her ex-husband was amicable. What she didn’t realize was that the worst was yet to come.
“We had multiple houses, cars, a boat and a baby,” Atwood says. “But we were able to work it out, file and do everything ourselves. What no one told me about what that yeah, divorce is bad. But things get really bad after the divorce.”
At the time of her divorce, Atwood was the vice president of a major tech company in Silicon Valley, a position she had to ultimately leave due to the stress and added responsibilities of her post-divorce life. She struggled to figure out a reliable child support payment system with her ex-husband, as well as reimbursement for items they were splitting for their daughter. She was being pulled out of meetings to settle disputes and set reminders for payments she was expected to make or receive.
While her divorce complications affected every aspect of her job, she found that companies offer very little to help.
“I was getting interrupted constantly during work hours,” Atwood says. “I was just shocked that there was nothing out there, so I started SupportPay.”
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SupportPay is an app available to both third-party single parents or as an employer-provided benefit that allows parents to manage their divorce from a single place. The app includes services like a receipt tracker, both for out-of-pocket items or to keep a history of child support payments, an inbox where both parties can exclusively communicate about child-related needs and a calendar system with all upcoming child support payments built in.
“Most people who haven’t been through [a divorce] don’t know that child support is typically a once a month payment and it’s calculated based on your income, multiplied by time with the child,” Atwood says. “But there’s also all these other expenses like medical care, child care, education and extracurricular activities that parents have to manage and share and they fluctuate over time.”
While Atwood says she used a spreadsheet to keep track of these payments and expenses, her solution wasn’t sustainable. For herself and other working parents, shouldering the burden alone gets even more complex when communication clashes with their full-time job.
“We were constantly arguing about the spreadsheets and things like ‘Are you paying for child care this week?’ and ‘Do you need to switch when you’re going to have her?'” Atwood says of her interactions with her former spouse. “That kind of back-and-forth has caused many working parents not only a huge amount of conflict with their ex but also lost productivity at work.”
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A recent survey conducted by SupportPay found that 70% of the workforce is impacted by divorce at any given time, and for employees going through a divorce, 81% experience lost productivity for more than one year, 73% experience increased absenteeism and 67% experience a decline in their physical and financial well-being.
SupportPay hopes to ease some of those communication breakdowns — the parent who made a purchase or a payment uploads a receipt onto the app and the other parent receives a notification. If they want to dispute it or negotiate it, they can submit a formal complaint through the app, where it’s then moved to a separate inbox to discuss the issue further. SupportPay requires both parties to agree to communicate on those matters on the app, to discourage either of them from interfering with the other’s work and personal life.
The accountability the app provides also keeps one parent from being able to take advantage of the other, things should get particularly tense. Atwood shared the case of one of her clients, a single father who uses the app for himself even though his ex-wife doesn’t. Her client had been fined $48,000 by the court because of claims that he wasn’t paying his portion of the child support. SupportPay showed the receipts of every single transaction he’d ever made and the fine was dropped.
“All he had to do was click a button and send them the data he’d been reporting, including the data from before he began using SupportPay,” Atwood says. “He sent them the record and no longer owed anything.”
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Beyond the financial obstacles, the emotional fallout of divorce can be like a death for a family, Atwood says. Divorce is one of the most stressful life events for most families, yet bereavement support or therapy is often not offered.
“Companies claim to be family friendly, they claim to care about financial well-being and mental well-being, but they have this huge audience of employees and families that aren’t getting specific benefits that they need,” Atwood says. “When it comes to the parents that are most stressed, they have the least amount of help.”
SupportPay currently has over 70,000 parents in their client network and have continued to add more since making it available to employees through their employer at no cost. While they may be one of the first companies to tackle this kind of problem, Atwood doesn’t expect to be the last. The concept of family-centered benefits is only growing.
“This [app] would literally have changed my life,” Atwood says. “So when you look at your company and your benefits, really ask yourself ‘Are you doing enough for single, divorced and step-parents within your organization to truly demonstrate that you are a family friendly work environment?'”