How to Divide Digital Assets in a Massachusetts Divorce

| Apr 4, 2018 | Divorce |

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When a Massachusetts divorce is imminent, both spouses typically expect there to be a division of the property and physical assets which have been collected during the course of the marriage. One new area which also must be examined for division is the digital assets of the spouses.

What are Digital Assets?

So what are digital assets of a Massachusetts marriage, anyway? Well, a good place to start looking is whichever electronic device you use most often – probably your smartphone. You likely have the following connected in some way to these devices:

  • Social media accounts, either shared or individual;
  • Access to a blog where you publish your thoughts or advertise your business;
  • Photo-sharing sites which you use to upload family photos and have prints made or other photo products made for you;
  • iTunes or other Music accounts;
  • Kindle, Nook, E-Book or Audio-Book platforms;
  • DropBox accounts where you store all of your family’s important documents and photos;
  • Amazon Prime Video/TV service;
  • Netflix account;
  • Ebay Accounts;
  • Online Video games which use real currency to “buy” virtual “property”, etc.
  • Domain Names which you own but lease or rent to others to generate income.

This list is far from exhaustive in today’s ever-evolving digital landscape. All of these things have value and that value must be analyzed for division when a couple decides to separate and divorce.

How is Value Determined For Digital Assets?

All of these digital items must be examined individually, along with the terms of use you agreed to when you purchased them. For example, iTunes songs have limitations on how many times they can be burned to a CD before the “license” you paid for won’t allow any more CDs to be created. There are also limitations on how and when those songs can be shared with another user. If your family uses the Family Sharing account through Apple, you can share amongst yourself, as long as the family organizer (usually one of the parents) allows access to the Family Sharing account. As you can see, this is just one type of digital assets. This same analysis must be reviewed for every type of asset subject to division.

Since there will be obvious physical impediments to equally “splitting” the digital assets, you will need to work with your attorney to negotiate a settlement which includes a monetary value for whatever assets you’re losing due to the fact that you can’t physically divide the digital assets of the marriage.

Is This Really Worth It?

Some may ask if this is really worth it in end? Isn’t it just easier to walk away and let everyone take whatever is connected to their usernames or email accounts?

Maybe. Just as every marriage is different, every Massachusetts divorce is different, too. Maybe your marriage doesn’t have a huge digital footprint. You and your spouse tend to collect or invest in physical things such as artwork, sports memorabilia, antique furniture, and libraries of rare books – all of which are physical items which likely have an appraisal attached to them and can be easily added up and then divided between the two of you. 

For the more modern marriage, let’s look at the value lost if these items aren’t examined. Let’s say John and Sally have a Family Sharing iTunes account. It’s connected to a joint martial credit card and they are the very definition of music lovers. They each buy approximately 3 new albums a month with their Family Account (of which John is the “organizer” – i.e. “owner” in Apple’s eye). Those albums are generally $13.99 each. They are married for 5 years. That’s $83.84 a month for 60 months for a grand total investment of over $5,000. Is that worth compensating the spouse who will lose his or her half of the collection?

How Will This Work in a Massachusetts Divorce?

In a Massachusetts divorce, the Court will divide the property of the marriage based on what is equitable – typically in the range of 50/50 for anything deemed to be a marital asset. In this particular case, since John is the “owner” in the eyes of Apple, Sally can’t physically walk away with her half of the songs, but their Massachusetts attorneys can structure their property settlement to give Sally either some other piece of property worth the same amount she’s “losing” in the digital world, or allow her to keep the amount of money it will cost her to “replace” what she’s losing.

The Law Offices of Renee Lazar provides legal counsel and support to families throughout Massachusetts, handling all matters of family law, such as property and asset divison, child support, divorce, adoption, and paternity cases.

Call 978-844-4095 to schedule a FREE one hour no obligation confidential consultation.

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