As more adults and kids alike regularly immerse themselves in the web, the assets they purchase and store there have become as real and valuable as physical items — if not more.
In a divorce, dividing digital assets such as video games, music, movies, online books and accounts should be included when the property is divided.
The impact of digital assets on divorce
While lots of electronic devices aid our everyday lives, many digital programs are designed to help us escape it. A recent survey found about 200 couples in the UK cited the online survival game, “Fortnite” or other online games as a contributing factor toward the decision to divorce.
With some spending thousands of dollars on intangible, online assets and others even profiting from digital assets they produce, these virtual “items” can be worth significantly more value than many physical objects couples share.
Assigning value to digital assets
Assets acquired during the marriage that were not gifted or inherited to one spouse specifically are considered “marital” property and are subjected to division in a divorce. This includes digital assets acquired during the marriage, such as music, online books or video libraries.
The value of most assets fluctuates due to changes in trends and inflation. It can be difficult to negotiate the value of online assets, because while the price paid for the asset is usually recorded, the asset may have depreciated in value since it was purchased.
Generally, if couples cannot come to their own agreement on how their assets should be divided through divorce mediation or their prenuptial agreement, the courts assign value to property. If the ex-spouses dispute this value, an outside appraiser may be used.
Challenges of virtual division
Virtual assets can present unique challenges in “dividing” property. For example, “influencers” use video and/or written blogs and social media posts to collect income from sponsors and host platforms, like Youtube or Instagram. Especially in cases where a spouse was involved in these digital assets, they may claim the right to income derived from these assets. Dividing this income can be especially challenging if the posts continue to make revenue after the divorce.
Digital accounts can also be tricky to handle. For example, an online video collection on Amazon that appreciates thousands of dollars in value may not be physically or virtually split. If Amazon only allows its services to be shared per household, the account should not be shared either.
How to begin property division
Starting the process for online property division goes hand in hand with physical property division. The best way to begin is for each spouse to list all assets they own, including the price it was worth, when it was purchased and where it was purchased.
Because the next step — negotiating the split of assets with your ex-spouse — can be difficult, hiring a Family Law attorney and going through divorce mediation steps can help ensure that all parties keep expectations realistic and fair.