In the case of a divorce, what happens to this virtual property a couple has acquired together? It is important to understand how divvying up the digital assets in a divorce is done.
Splitting up today means couples need to consider what to do with items beyond pots, pans, pictures, music collections, and other testaments to a life once shared. It extends to technology devices like smartphones, tablets, laptops, Xbox, and more complicated and intangible items like iTunes and Flickr accounts, Twitter followers, and even gaming avatars and virtual goods.
The process is simpler if each person in a couple kept things separately — simply unfriend the hostile in-laws and others who side with ex and reset privacy settings. Also, if you didn’t mingle your iTunes account with a spouse and continued to maintain your own file sharing system, for example, it is a little clearer.
But, for couples who have merged all their technology, share social media accounts and maybe even store it all conveniently in one giant, familial cloud, then the situation is murkier. In a contentious divorce, details on how to divide digital goods like a shared photo site or an extensive movie streaming library will increasingly be addressed in divorce agreements and separation plans.
Beyond this, another technologically thorny issue facing divorcing families is how to settle virtual assets, which are non-physical objects that Internet users buy for use in online communities and games.
In Farmville, Second Life and other online games, people spend money to buy enhanced goods and features like pets, coins, avatar clothing and weapons, and virtual farm real estate for these and other online activities. In some games, players trade and sell these goods and can convert them back to real-world currency, often for a profit.
These kinds of activities raise questions in divorce settlements because if the virtual goods were purchased during a marriage, they may be considered community property, and it in the vast virtual world, the worth of these assets varies.
As the importance of virtual property and digital goods continues to rise, corresponding property and matrimonial laws will need to evolve to discuss them. Today’s personal relationships are so intertwined with technology — online sites can spark a match, social media can cement the bond or present temptations that dissolve it, and digital evidence is growing in divorce filings.
In light of these trends, it can’t be too surprising that the role technology plays in creating new bonds and property interests will continue to challenge courts and lawyers as they decide how to divide them when love goes sour.