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Using Free Online Tools to Manage Shared Custody

Co-parenting kids where custody and child support are involved can mean lots of records. Visitation schedules, court case documents, child support records and the like can quickly become unmanageable. Further, as a long distance parent who lives apart from your co-parent, exchanging checks or eyeballing the same physical document is not possible. There are paid tools but fortunately for us, the internet hosts a variety of free online tools that can do wonders for keeping all of this organized.

Exchanging Money with Paypal

When parents don’t live close together, handing the custodial parent a child support check every month isn’t an option. Or when your child has an unexpected ER visit, it might not be feasible for the custodial parent to wait a week to receive your part of the medical expenses and for the check to clear their bank. But also, I am not even sure I know where my check book is these days. Almost everything has gone electronic.

There are several reliable, free tools for exchanging money online. Among the most popular are venmo and paypal. Although I do use Venmo on occasion, my co-parent and I use and have always used PayPal.

For me, the reasons I haven’t switched, as new players came on the scene, are pretty simple.

  • To send money through Venmo, you have to use the mobile app. Whereas Paypal offers a full suite of tools either from a computer or a mobile device.
  • Paypal is integrated into websites across the internet as a payment option so I can use it for more than just sending money to a person.
  • Paypal has detailed transaction receipts. They are emailed and also reportable online or in the app. This makes it super easy to keep a transaction log of child support payments, for example.

Google Docs

In the way of free online tools, the google drive suite is pretty comprehensive. Google docs allows you to create a spreadsheet or a document that you can access and update anywhere you have internet. Each doc has it’s own sharing settings so you can share them with people. The people you share with don’t have to have google accounts and you have options when you share. You can give them full edit access, comment access or view only access.

My co-parent and I have collaborated on all sorts of things over the years with google docs, but perhaps the longest lived is our expense sharing spreadsheet.

Google Sheets for Expense Sharing

If you’ve ever had to go through one of those mind numbing conversations or email chains that start with “I paid that.” and ending in frustration, this one’s for you. Try this free spreadsheet template for logging money exchanges between you and your co-parent. You can download it and save it to your own google docs account. Here’s what it looks like :

On the ‘current’ tab, you log every single transaction that involves both parents… either stuff you paid or expenses you accrue. The grey columns will auto calculate so just fill in whatever other columns apply to that particular transaction. Change mom/dad as appropriate. The ‘confirmation’ field is a field for you to mark that your co-parent acknowledged that expense or payment. At the end of the line, it keeps a tally of who owes who what.

When you both owe each other the same amount, it’s safe to ‘zero out’ all of the transactions that lead to that point. To do that, move those lines to the ‘zeroed out’ sheet (2nd tab across the bottom) to get them out of your way.

You can keep that spreadsheet for yourself or share it with the other parent so that they can keep up with the same account of transactions that you’re looking at. It becomes a great collaboration tool but also a fantastic record keeping tool.

If you want to get extra fancy, you can even add links to receipts that live in your Evernote account (below).

If your child is grown and/or you are sharing expenses between three people, check out the free template for sharing expenses between three people.


Evernote is a brilliant free online tool for many reasons.

  • You can put anything there – docs, pdfs, images, zip files. Truly whatever.
  • You can get stuff into your account through email, posting directly into the app or it’s mobile document camera.
  • all of your pdfs are searchable
  • it’s available online so you can access your stuff anywhere you can access the internet
  • it’s accessible via an android or iphone app (among many others)

Most of all, it’s super handy where shared custody is concerned too :

  • Retaining documentation is critical in shared custody cases. Especially in long distance parenting arrangements where there tends to be more difficulty in communication. Although, using your Evernote account, you can create notes manually, you can also email anything into your Evernote account and it stays there until you delete it. That includes a text email, pictures, pdfs or anything else attached to your email.
  • You also have to be able to find the documents you have carefully retained. Evernote will recognize the text in your pictures and pdfs ad that text will be searchable inside your Evernote account. So if you upload or email a picture of a dentist receipt into Evernote, you can log into your Evernote account and search for it later. You can also tag and organize stuff for more granular organization.
  • Finally, you need to be able to share documentation. You can email documents out to someone else, access them for yourself, organize them or maintain them from anywhere you get internet. That means that if the other parent needs that copy of that receipt that you already sent them four times but they still don’t have it, RIGHT when you are on your way to dinner, you COULD access Evernote from your phone and send it to them right there. Were you to feel so charitable.

Google Calendar

Google calendar – is well, a calendar. But what makes it good in the way of free online tools for managing custody and visitation is it’s sharing capability.

Create a Shared Calendar

It’s pretty easy and works exactly like you’d expect. To create a parenting time calendar, create a calendar and call it something like ‘parenting time’. Then share the calendar with your co-parent with the level of permissions you’d like to give them.

Share Your Calendar

Alternatively, if you’d like to give your co-parent or your child the ability to see your availability, without seeing the details of your appointments, that’s easy too.

  1. Open your google calendar
  2. On the left hand side, under ‘my calendars’, hover over your calendar.
  3. Click the 3 dot menu
  4. Click settings and sharing
  5. Scroll down to ‘share with specific people’ and add the person you’d like to share with. When adding them, select ‘see only free/busy (hide details)’

When my son was of an age that calendaring would be helpful, I shared my availability with him. I created events for things like calls with his dad and invited him so that it would show up on his calendar and he would get alerts and whatnot.

Google calendar has lots of features for android users that make it a pretty great overall calendar on the go as well. I have always preferred it over other calendars that came stock with my phone.

Microsoft Family Safety

Long distance parents have a unique (or maybe not so unique, these days) situation of having kids who need to be on the internet at far younger ages. This is where tools that protect our kids from the big bad guys of the internet come in.

Microsoft Family Safety largely works out of the box with Windows, so if you’re a PC, it’s free.   No extra services or software is needed.   There are a few features you get if you have an Office 365 account, which is paid.    But ultimately, it works pretty well as a full featured child protection suite without those. It works on mobile devices as well as desktops and laptops.

Long distance parenting can be complicated and expensive. But it doesn’t have to be if you use what’s available to develop a system that works for you!

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