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Family matters

Divorced dad creates app to reduce shared custody tensions

Divorced dad Jacob Plotsker has developed an app to help separated or divorced parents coordinate the details of shared child care, with some helpful feedback from his own kids. Photo courtesy Jacob Plotsker
Divorced dad Jacob Plotsker has developed an app to help separated or divorced parents coordinate the details of shared child care, with some helpful feedback from his own kids. Photo courtesy Jacob Plotsker

With Purim and Passover drawing near and summer just over the horizon, divorced parents face yet another round of questions that can send tensions spiraling: Who is taking the kids to megillah reading? Who gets them for the first or second seder? How much does each parent owe for camp fees? And who will have the kids for the Fourth of July or Labor Day Weekend?

But Jacob Plotsker and his ex-wife haven’t really struggled with such issues. “Actually, we get along well. It wasn’t ‘War of the Roses’ with us,” he said, recalling the 1989 murderous dark comedy about a splitting couple. “But even for us, coordinating schedules was complicated, and for people we know who’ve had ‘high conflict’ divorces, things can really go off the rails.”

So Plotsker, who lives in West Orange and describes himself as “an ideas guy” — he has worked in strategy, marketing, and finance in the pharmaceutical industry — developed a desktop and mobile app, together with his brother Stephen, to help divorced people keep coparenting as harmonious as possible.

It’s called Zimplified, a slightly Yiddishized take on his central goal: to simplify communication. Central features include a calendar on which kids’ schedules can be clearly delineated, financial functions tracking who pays for what, and channels for shared information about medical visits and schools. Plotsker frames it as his contribution to tikkun olam, repairing the world.

“Our goal as parents is to raise happy, emotionally healthy kids,” Plotsker said. That means turning a situation rife with potential conflict into “a collaborative, cooperative” relationship. And to achieve that, the parents need to share information as clearly as possible.

You don’t have to be tech-savvy to take advantage of Zimplified’s benefits, its creator insists. The app’s interface guides users through a setup process that can be completed in 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the complexity of the divorce agreement. Each parent pays for a subscription — priced at $9.99 a month for an annual subscription — which also includes “sub-users,” like children, babysitters, or grandparents, who have access only to the shared calendar features.

Plotsker cited the kinds of issues people who tested the app have battled with.

“In one family, the mother had taken the child to the doctor and not told the father about a medication the doctor prescribed,” Plotsker said. “Another couple argued about buying clothes. Zimplified enables a user to digitally attach receipts when entering shared expenses, providing documentation for the child-related expenses, reducing the potential for conflict.”

Another example he gave: Unexpected business trips that could throw parental time sharing into chaos, but which now can be juggled efficiently with a request for coverage from the traveler via the app.

Zimplified was launched just this past December, so it is too soon to measure success. But Plotsker said he’s confident it will find a substantial market, judging by the response from a number of family law attorneys, judges, and parenting coordinators who saw it demonstrated at a matrimonial law conference in Florida the last weekend in January. A number of attendees indicated they would include in divorce settlements an agreement that both partners will use the app.

One divorced dad, Robert (his last name is being withheld at his request), like Plotsker a father of three, told this reporter that Zimplified has been very helpful. “In my situation,” he said, after using the app, “the expense-sharing with my ex-wife is a tremendous improvement. We have virtually eliminated arguments over money.” If they had had the app when they first split up, Robert said, “We would have gotten off to a better start. It would have helped us be more organized and ease the transition for the kids.”

Plotsker’s own children tried it out and provided feedback during the development stage to help make Zimplified more user-friendly. “They say they find it easy to use and extremely helpful,” their father said.

He added, “The funny thing is that people who are not divorced have also said they would find it really helpful to manage their busy lives.”

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