Friday, April 24, 2009

Software for Creating Parenting Plans and Calculating Timeshares

Every custody case requires a parenting plan, and every custody case requires a determination of the percentage of time the child spends with each parent so that child support can be calculated. The timeshare calculation has always been a frustrating exercise for me. The reason for the frustration is because there are no standards or reference points to fall back on. Every judge, and every lawyer, has his or her own method. And those methods can change every day. I have literally had a judge tell me in court one day that after school until 8 p.m. with dad equals a quarter day. Then the next day in court the judge will tell me that after school until 8 p.m. with dad will equal a half day. I have even gone to the trouble of lobbying the State Bar of California's Family Law Section Executive Committee to push for legislation to create some standard (which to date has not happened).

Even if, or when, there is a standard the prevailing method of calculating timeshare is still counting fingers and toes and then taking a guess. It doesn't have to be that way. There are software products out there that can perform the math. I have used several products with mixed success. They are fairly effective in negotiating timeshare with opposing counsel. Unfortunately, the problems arise at the courthouse. The judges have not been receptive to software calculations, and have not been willing to put any weight on the reports that the software creates. The software calculates time share based on the hours that the child spends with each parent, and the judges I have dealt with have been resistant to that degree of accuracy. Again, they prefer to utilize the finger and toe, phase of the moon, throw the chicken bones method of guesstimation. I don't think this is an effective, or equitable application of legal process, but who is to tell the judges how to do things? Perhaps it shall be me! This Don Quixote is going to continue to fight the windmill of judicial reticence to timeshare software.

A product that I have been familiar with for years is Custody X Change. The program is written by Ben Coltrin (whom I have never actually met, but have exchanged e-mails with). I must confess, I bought the program some years ago, and then pulled back from using it -- because my local judges just weren't responding favorably to my using it. Within the last couple of years one of our local, newly appointed, family law judges has been taking a look at computer generated timeshare reports, and that has renewed my enthusiasm! I did a Google search, and was reminded of Custody X Change. I went to the website and downloaded the trial version. Ben has made some improvements that really add to the program. For example:
  1. The attachment and the computational report can now be saved to Microsoft Word, Works, Open Office, etc. (RTF format).
  2. All the reports can be exported to PDF.
  3. The parenting plan language can be quickly changed from custody/visitation to lives with/spends time with. Some jurisdictions prefer one language over the other.
  4. After parents sit down together and work out their agreement, they now have the option of signing it before presenting it to court.
Another great thing Ben has done is to add a series of instructional videos. After watching the videos I have learned so much more about the software, and of all the shortcuts available to make it easier to use. Ben is investing a lot of time and energy into this program, and it shows.

Let me give you a look at the software.

Below you see the main screen of Custody X Change. Here's a tip. You can see each graphic full screen by clicking on it. The program works in layers. Layer 1 is the repeating cycle. Here I have set it up so the mom has primary physical custody. Dad had custodial time every 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends, and a dinner visit every Wednesday from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. At the bottom of the screen you can see that the program has calculated Time with Father" to be 18.4%,"Time with Mother" to be 81.6%.

Next I go to the Holidays screen and check the boxes for the holidays that the child will spend with Dad.

You can see that the software has recalculated "Time with Father" to be 24.3%, and "Time with Mother" to be 75.7%.

As a further component of your parenting plan, the program allows certain default provisions to be selected.

These options are incorporated into the reports that the program generates. And let's take a look at those reports.

First you see the Parenting Plan Report with the default schedule that we created, as will as the parenting plan provisions that we chose. Very nice!

The second report to be created is the Computational Report. This is the spreadsheet showing the actual time calculation for each parent that gave us our 24%/76%.

I am telling you folks, this is good stuff! As it stands right now I am giving the program a big thumbs-up!

My only hesitation in buying the product is the pricing. In the old days when I first purchased Custody X Change, I paid a one time price to buy the disc for the program. Ben has since switched to a licensing model and you pay by the year, and by the number of seat licenses. This makes the program much more expensive than in its infancy (but then again, is it wrong for the vendor to want to make money? Of course not). You can check out the current pricing models by clicking here.

Again, this is a very exciting release for Custody X Change. It really adds a lot of flexibility with the court reports, and in fashioning parenting and timeshare plans.

Please be sure to visit, the website for the law firm of Harding & Associates, for more information on California family law.

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