Dividing up the marital property in a divorce is already challenging, but it can be even more so when digital assets are involved. Downloadable and streaming content such as movies and music often come with a variety of legal restrictions that can make it difficult to distribute the assets in an equitable manner, which may lead to contentious interactions with your soon-to-be ex-spouse. Here's what you need to know about dealing with digital assets to help you make the best decisions possible when handling claims on them.
Separate vs. Marital Property
The first thing you need to do is to determine if the asset is separate or marital property. If the person owned an asset prior to marriage and the spouse didn't use or add any value to it during the marriage, then the asset will likely be seen as owned only by the individual (i.e. separate property) and the court will probably award him or her that asset. On the other hand, an asset obtained during the course of marriage using community funds and enjoyed by both parties will likely be seen as part of the marital property, and the court will handle the asset accordingly. This may entail giving one spouse the cash equivalent of his or her share in the asset if it cannot be divided up easily.
However, things don't always fall into neat categories. Although a person may have brought a particular asset into the marriage, it may be converted into marital property during the course of the relationship. This can occur if:
- If the spouse's name is added as a co-owner (e.g. added to a house title)
- The spouse contributes to the acquisition or preservation of the asset
- The spouse helps increase or decrease the value of the asset in some tangible way
- The asset is comingled with marital property (e.g. depositing an inheritance check into a joint bank account)
Likewise, an asset that would be regarded as part of the marital estate can be reassigned as separate property if one spouse signs his or her interest over to the other person in the relationship. Assets that were only used by or for the benefit of one spouse may also be viewed as separate property.
The Problem with Digital Assets
Digital assets present a unique problem in a divorce because many companies that sell downloadable or steaming content do not allow people to share accounts. For example, while you can use multiple devices on one account, only one person can be the owner of a Kindle account at any one time. Additionally, you cannot transfer books from one account to another (you can only lend or borrow between accounts and sometimes you are limited in the number of devices that can have the same content).
If your spouse makes purchases on your account, you can't simply send the person the items he or she bought and be done with it. You would either have to share the account or transfer the entire account to your spouse's name. A third option is to give your spouse the money to repurchase the materials on his or her own account.
Other types of digital assets may require a little more effort to resolve. If you own a popular blog, for example, you'll have to determine the market value of that asset and give your spouse the share due to him or her if your spouse had any hand in its development. If the digital asset has no monetary value but significant sentimental value (as in the case of photographs or videos), then it you'll need to either find a way to make copies of the disputed assets, negotiate access, or hire an expert to help put a dollar value on the pieces so you can compensate your spouse.
For more information or assistance with handling digital assets during a divorce, connect with a divorce attorney.