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#DigitalDivorce: Divvying up online assets

Divorce these days is very different than it was just a generation or two ago. Couples divorcing in the 21st century find themselves facing issues that their parents or grandparents might never have even considered. For example, the majority of today's dissolution cases involve some form of evidence derived from social media, networking sites, email or text messages.

Another area in which the modern-day divorce is quite different from those of the past is the issue of digital and electronic assets. While intangible assets - particularly things like stock portfolios or the goodwill/reputation value of a closely held business - have always been part of divorce property settlement, today there are whole categories of digital, online and wholly electronic properties that must be carefully valued and divided.

Digital assets abound

Digital and electronic assets run the gamut personally and professionally. If a divorcing couple has their own business, its website, Facebook page, Twitter feed and list of customer email addresses are all potentially valuable electronic assets. These items are a part of the business' overall presence and reputation, and can contribute to lead generation, sales, marketing and retention efforts.

In the more personal arena, things like digital photos and videos, joint social networking and media accounts, mp3 playlists, digital books and magazines (such as those on an e-reader like a Nook or Kindle), airline miles and blogs can all be considered marital property if they were acquired during the marriage or gained value while the couple was wed. As financial assets, they must be included in the couple's marital estate for equitable distribution.

There are even more esoteric and abstract online and digital assets that today's divorcing couples might also need to consider as part of their property settlement negotiations, including:

  • Custom email addresses
  • Domain names
  • Online membership and listed assets in virtual communities or online role-playing games (like World of Warcraft, Second Life and Entopia)
  • Reward points for online and brick-and-mortar businesses
  • Digital storefronts (such as those used to sell items on Amazon or eBay)
  • Digital artwork or collectibles
  • Virtual currency

Some digital property is transferable, and can easily be apportioned to one party or another during a divorce. Some, however, cannot be transferred because of terms-of-use guidelines on particular websites. For those types of assets, a monetary value must be assigned, and then other marital property assigned to one party in exchange (one party could get the couple's joint Apple playlists and digital media, while the other gets a higher share of stock accounts).

If you have questions about how digital assets could impact your divorce, discuss the issue with your divorce attorney.

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