Using technology to manage divorce

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 March, 2013, 3:32am

I read with interest the report ("How to keep the ex at bay", February 24).

I commend you for publishing details on how technology can help co-parenting within divorced or separated families for the benefit of the children involved. The article cites Google Calendar, Skype, apps, text messaging, online agendas, e-mail and internet resources as helpful technology to cool acrimony and promote co-operation. These electronic conversations are silent and it is a good thing to avoid "arguing in front of the kids".

However, it may be helpful to point out that the American legal terms in the article are not applicable for families in Hong Kong.

"Primary physical custody", "joint physical custody" and "joint custody bearers" are US terms, whereas in Hong Kong we refer to "custody, care and control, and access".

Unfortunately, there remains a general lack of public understanding about these terms, despite the best efforts of the judiciary and legal professionals. It is increasingly popular now in Hong Kong for divorcing parents to put together parenting schedules. These can be tailor-made with plenty of detail and fitting to the lifestyle of the children in question.

They provide certainty and stability for the co-parents and their children. Provisions such as use of Google Calendar and Skype access, and use of other methods as technology develops, can be included in Hong Kong court orders.

Since October 2012, Hong Kong has introduced a pilot scheme of "Children's Dispute Resolution". Via the new standardised form, parents are encouraged to consider communication questions such as "How will you ensure that each parent receives school reports and other details of your children's progress?" and "How will you help your children spend time and communicate with the other parent and/or other family members?"

However, "keeping communiques limited to the keyboard" is not necessarily a panacea.

As usual, the more balanced and reasonable the parents are, the more likely they are to use common sense and see how to make the most of technology in the children's best interests. For those of a different mindset and determined to wreak havoc, even about the children's arrangements, technology can present a whole set of additional problems as keyboard quarrels simply take the place of face-to-face ones.

Humour, irony, sarcasm and even genuine kindness can certainly get lost in the cloud.

Helen Ladret, solicitor, collaborative practitioner, Hampton, Winter and Glynn