A review of "Our Family WizardŽ" versus OPTIMAL from ParentingTime.net
By Kelly Rogers
This review is based on publicly available information from both sites, Our Family WizardŽ and ParentingTime.net™. "Our Family WizardŽ" is a registered trademark of the Our Family WizardŽ site.
How does ParentingTime.net's "OPTIMAL™" service compare with the Our Family WizardŽ service?
Summary: We feel that OPTIMAL™ provides more features and functionality at a lower cost than Our Family WizardŽ does. OPTIMAL provides parents with a convenient, easy-to-use system for tracking custody time and powerful communication tools for less than Our Family WizardŽ does. For a feature-by-feature comparison, read on.
To help you compare the two products before purchasing either of them, we've done a review of both Our Family WizardŽ and OPTIMAL that looks carefully at each aspect of the programs and what it does.
Both OPTIMAL and Our Family WizardŽ will help divorced parents who need a shared communication center with the child's other parent. In our opinion, OPTIMAL is a more polished product, with a number of features that go beyond the Our Family WizardŽ service.
The basic Our Family WizardŽ service starts off at $99 per year, but is restricted to one parent and no Guest accounts. OPTIMAL is slightly higher at $149, but allows up to 10 guest accounts which can be used by the other parent, the children, the parent's attorneys, or by mediators, therapists, or other parties. If both parents want to use the Our Family WizardŽ service the cost jumps to $179 (with a two-year agreement). OPTIMAL would still cost just $149.
WINNER: OPTIMAL. Overall cost is important, especially if you want to allow more than one person to use it. We also feel that you shouldn't have to pay more to give both parents access, especially for an application that's supposed to help parents communicate.
Parenting Plan Calendar
Both products offer a shared Calendar that can be used to map out a parenting plan. The two products seem fairly similar in this regard, although OPTIMAL allows some additional tweaks, like setting a specific event or events as "private" so they can't be seen by anyone except the account owner. OPTIMAL allows events to marked specifically as Parenting Time events, which then communicates these events to the Time Tracking part of OPTIMAL. Mousing over an event in OPTIMAL also shows a nice "tool tip" that summarizes the event info so you don't have to drill down into every entry to see what it is. Our Family WizardŽ does not have a dedicated custody-tracking module and tracks time only through the calendar. Our Family WizardŽ also doesn't show "Scheduled Time" versus "Actual Time", so there's no way to tell how much time you may have missed. In our opinion, this is a critical feature missing from Our Family WizardŽ.
WINNER: OPTIMAL is far and away the definitive winner here, based on features and ease-of-use.
The OPTIMAL Time Tracker includes a day-by-day graphical "Timeline" that shows all of the pick-ups and drop-offs (custody periods) in each day. Clicking on the Timeline takes you directly to the associated event for viewing or editing. Our Family WizardŽ does not appear to provide any similar function, or any kind of timeline at all.
WINNER: OPTIMAL is the clear winner here, since Our Family WizardŽ doesn't a timeline display.
Our Family WizardŽ includes something they call the "Info Bank", which allows keeping free-form data such as Addresses, School Information, and Emergency Contacts. OPTIMAL provides the same functionality in their "Notes & Tasks" module. OPTIMAL provides a number of additional fields for contacts, such as a birthday field and multiple phone number fields (pagers, office, home, mobile, etc).
WINNER: Pretty much a dead heat here. Having the extra fields OPTIMAL provides is handy but not a deciding factor.
Integrated with the Notes module, OPTIMAL provides a "Tasks" or "to-do" feature that alerts you to upcoming events. A "Priority" control also allows you to set the importance of the event (Low, Medium, or High). Another nice feature is that any Note in the Notes module can be turned into a Task and vice-versa. This seems especially handy for upcoming events like a meeting with teachers or any Task that needs to be done by a certain date.
WINNER: OPTIMAL is the winner here, since Our Family WizardŽ doesn't include a Tasks or "To-Do" module.
Each program includes a private Journal or Diary page where you can keep records for yourself or other family members. Each program allows printing, but OPTIMAL allows export to a spreadsheet or Microsoft .DOC format as well. The Our Family WizardŽ program can provide a diary for each family member if desired. OPTIMAL allows fine-grained permissions to be set on the Journal module so that another family member may be given no access, view-only access, view-and-add access, or full read/write access.
WINNER: It's close. We think the multiple diary feature of Our Family WizardŽ is nice, but we prefer having more control over who can add, edit, or delete in the diary. We think OPTIMAL has a slight edge over Our Family WizardŽ in this respect.
Private Message Options
The Our Family WizardŽ program provides a "message board" communication system that all members can view. In our opinion this may not always be desirable, especially if parents are discussing personal matters or information pertaining to the divorce. The message board does not allow "threading" of messages, which can help users keep track of seprate conversations. OPTIMAL uses a "Private Message Center", where the users with appropriate permissions can respond to messages privately (hence the name). A Guest account for a child, for example, is protected from sending messages to an off-limits account for a family attorney. This ensures that children don't get caught up in sensitive discussions or legal issues. OPTIMAL time-stamps each message so the sender knows the time and date that it was read. All messaging is kept on the ParentingTime server and is never sent via email (although message alerts can be sent to the recipient's email, phone, or SMS number).
WINNER: OPTIMAL, because of its greater security and account management.
Our Family WizardŽ allows Guest accounts, but they can only have access to a limited number of features. OPTIMAL's Guest accounts can be given permissions to allow or deny any level of access to any or all of the modules. For the same level of access in Our Family WizardŽ, you have to pay more (for an additional 'Parent' account).
WINNER: OPTIMAL, because of its lower cost and greater functionality.
Online Checkbook/Expense Tracker
Both Our Family WizardŽ and OPTIMAL provide an online expense manager with similar features. Each allows you to track payments and expenses, along with notes. The OPTIMAL expense tracker keeps a running total, and can also be used as an online checkbook.
WINNER: Mostly a dead heat, although we do like the running total feature in OPTIMAL.
Child Support Tracker
OPTIMAL provides an additional module specifically for tracking child support, both paid and received. The Child Support module allows a user to (optionally) include a number of other details that can help determine if amounts paid exceed state guidelines. The Child Support module keeps a running total, and entries can be locked to prevent accidentally overwriting previous entries (while still allowing corrections to be made).
WINNER: OPTIMAL, hands down. There is no dedicated Child Support Tracker in Our Family WizardŽ.
OPTIMAL includes a sophisticated statistics package that lets you see exactly how parenting time is being distributed. The gorgeous full-color graphs track the following items:
- Parenting Time by Month
- Denied Visits by Month
- Overnights by Month
- Days Per Month with Contact
- Parenting Time Distribution
- Monthly Percentage of Contact
- Expenses by Month
- Mileage by Month
The graphs OPTIMAL produces are clear and easy to understand. When presented in court or in negotiations they show exactly what's going on in a way that's hard to refute. No other system produces the detailed custody and parenting time statistics that OPTIMAL does.
WINNER: Far and away, this one goes to OPTIMAL. We think that the stats and graphs in OPTIMAL are a critical feature and would be extremely important in court or negotiations.
Private Chat Features
Our Family WizardŽ does not appear to have any real-time private chat feature. OPTIMAL's accounts include a very full-featured Private Chat area at no additional cost.
WINNER: OPTIMAL, because Our Family WizardŽ doesn't provide any kind of chat room or chat function.
Both OPTIMAL and Our Family WizardŽ keep an audit log that shows who changed what, for example, when notes were added. OPTIMAL does this, but goes a step further by showing you a time-stamped record of every single page a user viewed in order, including instances where when a user started an action but didn't complete it (for example, starting to add a note but then canceling it).
WINNER: OPTIMAL, for the completeness of its audit logging.
OPTIMAL offers file upload and storage capability. For example, you can give the other parent access to view a bill that you've scanned and uploaded. Or you could upload a document or image so your attorney or the other parent could download and view it. OPTIMAL allows you to upload MS Word documents, Zip files, pictures, Excel spreadsheets, and more. This is axtremely handy feature that can be used for all sorts things. The Our Family WizardŽ program also has online file storage, but the permissions system doesn't appear to be as fine-grained as OPTIMAL's is. OPTIMAL allows you to grant or restrict access to each file for guest account, and OPTIMAL also includes a way to make a file available to non-guests. By using a specially-coded web address, you can optionally allow a file to be downloaded without having to create a Guest account.
WINNER: OPTIMAL, due to the better control over which guests (and non-guests) can access uploaded files.
The OPTIMAL Form Wizards make it easy to enter information, guiding you step-by-step and letting you back up and change things if you need to. The Our Family WizardŽ program does not have Form Wizards.
WINNER: OPTIMAL, for having a feature that Our Family WizardŽ doesn't provide.
OPTIMAL is endorsed by numerous parenting groups and legal professionals, including SPARC, the Professional Association of Custody Evaluators, OurDivorceAgreement.com, Dean Tong, Mens News Daily, Dr. Reena Sommer, Ph.D., TeamDad, as well as by countless parents and families.
To have an account for both parents, plus one Guest (for example, an attorney), OPTIMAL will cost $149, but Our Family WizardŽ will cost $179.
WINNER: OPTIMAL is more affordable and provides an account for the other parent at no additional cost.
All in all, both programs have their merits, but in the end we feel that
- OPTIMAL provides more features and functionality at a lower cost than Our Family WizardŽ does.
- OPTIMAL provides parents with a convenient, easy-to-use system for tracking custody time and powerful communication tools for a lot less than the Our Family WizardŽ program does.
- The graphs and statistics that OPTIMAL produces give it a clear advantage over the Our Family WizardŽ program.
Disclaimer: This review is intended as advertising material, and is provided to you by ParentingTime.net™. This review is based on publicly available information from both sites, Our Family WizardŽ and ParentingTime.net™. Although the information in this review was accurate when published, changes may have been made in both OPTIMAL™ and the Our Family WizardŽ product since then. We recommend that you carefully examine both products before purchasing either of them.