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Divorced With Kids? Attorney Discusses Technology and Co-parenting

We interviewed family law attorney Leslie Shergill. Leslie works in Sacramento, CA, and has over 15 years experience. She focuses on divorce, custody, support, domestic violence, and other family-related litigation. She is also a parent herself. She knows how important digital safety is for children and how difficult it can be if co-parents disagree in this area. With Leslie’s insights, we give you our best recommendations and even specific language that your attorney can consider adding to your parenting plan. 

Co-parenting in the digital age brings many challenges. Especially when divorced parents are not on the same page with technology expectations. While traditional aspects of parenting plans focus on physical custody and visitation schedules, the digital age introduces a new layer of complexity that cannot be ignored — who has control over the digital realm?

Key concerns in co-parenting and digital safety

Issues often arise when a child arrives with a phone purchased by one parent, revealing a lack of controls or even tracking without the other parent's knowledge. These situations often turn the phone into a battleground for control. Family law attorney Leslie Shergill shares:

“The issues that I see most often in family law cases regarding children’s cell phones/devices are:
  1. Cost - the parent who pays for the child’s cell phone/device seeks reimbursement from the other parent of ½ the cost.
  2. Access - parents want to ensure their child has free access to their cell phone/device at all times in the event they wish to contact the non-custodial parent.
  3. Tracking - the non-owner parent of the child’s cell phone/device does not want the other parent tracking what the child is doing during their parenting time.
  4. Content/Age-Appropriate Controls - parents do not agree on the best age for a child to first receive a phone/device, and they do not agree on age-appropriate controls and usage on the phone/device.”

Related: Do Kids Deserve Digital Privacy? 3 Myths Debunked for Smart Parents

Address digital safety in your parenting plan from the get-go

Digital safety concerns will continue to surface as the child grows up, even though these are often overlooked early in the process of divorce. For example, you may have a 3-year-old when you begin a divorce, but you’ll have to deal with phone permissions when they are older. 

Leslie shares, “Having clear and specific language about children’s technology usage upfront could save parents a lot of time, heartache, confusion, and money spent on attorneys in the future.” 

While it’s ideal to include a technology clause in a parenting plan from the outset, many co-parents do not have one in place. Since no one gets to go back in time, here’s our best tips going forward.

Related: Digital Parenting and Shared Custody: 6 Tips for Setting Boundaries with Your Ex


Our best tips to secure digital safety while co-parenting

1. Come to an amicable agreement. Often, one parent would like stricter controls while the other deems them unnecessary. In cases of amicable co-parenting, the parent advocating for stricter rules can propose language, often leading to mutual agreement. 

2. Be the first to get the phone. We get it, many divorce situations are not amicable. If your child does not yet have a phone and you would like to ensure that your digital safety values are implemented, then be the first parent to purchase the phone. This way you can choose a kid-safe phone, install parental controls, and establish access to passwords.

3. Seeking legal guidance: Perhaps you don’t have an amicable relationship with your ex and they have already purchased your child a phone or device. If you are unable to agree on digital safety measures then you may need to bring this issue before the court. 

If that is the case, be clear in what you are asking the court to order. For example, if the other parent has already purchased a phone/device for your child, you could ask the court to order that you:

  • have all passwords/passcodes on the phone, and
  • have equal access to monitor the child’s device.  

Ultimately, if the other parent will not cooperate you may need to request that:

  • you have control over the security of the child’s device, or 
  • that the child only uses your provided cell phone/device which will ensure your child’s online safety and appropriate usage.

4. Educate your child on digital safety. Ultimately it is impossible to control what happens in the other parent’s house. An extra challenge is presented if they bought your child a phone first, or they buy a second phone for the child to use while in their care, especially if parental controls are not in place. That’s why educating your child about online safety is paramount because your child is going to have their phone everywhere, not just at the other parent’s house. 


Digital safety education tools to empower your child

Here are some resources to help teach your child about online risks and responsible device usage habits. Divorced or not, we always recommend beginning these conversations as soon as a child is old enough to hold a device in their hands.

  • Digital Safety Planner: A free guide that is packed with practical advice on filters & parental controls, how to supervise online activity, and tips for starting important conversations. 
  • Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids: A comfortable, read-aloud book for ages 7-12 that teaches kids to install an internal filter to reject pornography. A #1 best seller on Amazon.
  • Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr: A Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds: A read-aloud book that uses gentle, age-appropriate messages to teach young children (ages 3-6) the Turn, Run & Tell plan when they are accidentally exposed to inappropriate content. A #1 best seller on Amazon.
  • Building Emotional Resilience in Kids: 4 Easy Tools: This therapist-recommended guide helps kids learn how to get their emotional needs met and deal with negative feelings in positive ways–important for avoiding addictions of all kinds
  • Brain Defense: Digital Safety: A digital easy to use curriculum that arms your kids with digital safety strategies using entertaining videos, engaging workbooks, and family activities to protect kids ages 7-11 from online dangers. Kids will learn self-discipline, safe habits, and good digital citizen practices.

Act today to secure digital safety in your parenting plan

Initiate a conversation with your co-parent today about implementing digital safety measures in your parenting plan. By proactively addressing digital safety you can create a safer online environment for your child and foster healthier co-parenting dynamics. 

We wish you all the best in co-parenting! Remember to please take advantage of our bestselling books, helpful guides, and engaging curriculum to equip your child to thrive in the digital age, instead of suffering the harms of online dangers.  

*This article does not constitute legal advice for any specific case. Anyone with legal questions should consult an attorney.

Brain Defense: Digital Safety Curriculum - Family Edition

"Parents are desperate for concepts and language like this to help their children. They would benefit so much from this program - and I think it would spur much needed conversations between parents and children.” --Jenet Erikson, parent

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