Norton UK Blog
Divorce: How Do You Divvy Up Digital Assets?
Sharing is caring, or so the saying goes. As couples we must care a lot, because we’re sharing everything from passwords (big no-no!) and email accounts to financial data and social media profiles. But unfortunately, this tendency to share our digital space can make for a messy separation and divorce if relationships go belly-up.
And they do – according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 42 per cent of marriages end in divorce. And that figure doesn’t take into account cohabiting couples and those in civil partnerships who go their separate ways.
Six decrees of separation
1. Make a list of your collective digital assets
According to a recent study by the Pew Research Internet Project:
- 67 per cent of internet users who are married or in a committed relationship have shared at least one online account password with their spouse/partner. (This is definitely not a good idea, folks.)
- More than a quarter of these couples have a joint email account with their spouse/partner.
- One in 10 of these couples share an online calendar.
- 11 per cent of married/committed couples who use social networking sites share a profile.
Our digital belongings may also include web domains, photo libraries, bank accounts, accounts with online stores like Amazon, online businesses, artwork, iTunes accounts, movies and ebooks.
You or your soon-to-be ex may also have virtual assets bought, earned or won in online worlds like Second Life and Entropia, and games like World of Warcraft.
Typical virtual assets encompass land and buildings, pets, avatars, weapons, clothing, jewellery – and currency like bitcoins or Linden dollars that have actual real-world value. (In 2013, Second Life creator Linden Lab claimed that online transactions for virtual goods in the community’s economy totalled US$3.2bn in the 10 years up to that year).
2. Determine how much they’re worth
This can be tricky. Some may be of sentimental value; others may be worth a great deal financially.
A 2013 PricewaterhouseCoopers report, The Value of a Digital Life, claims that UK consumers value their personal digital assets at a whopping £25 billion.
Apparently, the average person has 2,678 songs, 28 films, 42 ebooks and 30 telly programmes stored. Our top items to keep digitally are: photos of loved ones (73 per cent of people surveyed); personal messages, including emails (69 per cent); and music (57 per cent).
3. Decide who gets what
Many digital possessions, such as videos and photos, can be copied so that both of you can have them. Some, such as membership points, can often be transferred. But user agreements may not permit transfer or copying of assets like iTunes collections or ebooks – so, if that’s the case, they will have to be given to one or the other of you. Perhaps you can buy out your ex-partner’s share, or sell them yours. If an online business is involved, you may need to contact a solicitor for advice.
The Financial Times reported some time back that lawyers were warning of bitcoins potentially being used to hide resources during divorce cases, and that Californian courts were sending out search and discovery orders of such digital currencies.
UK legislation covering separation and divorce is going to have to be updated in order to manage division of our growing digital commodities. In the meantime, a mediator may be able to help you come to agreement if you have problems deciding who should get what.
4. Do some digital housekeeping
Change passwords for all of your accounts and devices, and make sure your new passwords are strong (eight characters minimum, with a selection of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols). Don’t reveal your passwords to anyone.
- Encrypt sensitive data.
- Make sure you always log out of your devices, and keep them safe.
- Get security software, and keep it up to date.
If you shared a computer with your ex, and it’s moving out with him/her or being recycled, you will need to safeguard your personal information – saving what you want to hang on to and deleting the rest.
First, back up the files you want to keep to another location.
Bear in mind that simply deleting files and emptying the recycling bin won’t stop anyone with technical nous from retrieving your data. To permanently delete selected files, you’ll need a program like Eraser for Windows or Permanent Eraser for Mac.
Alternatively, you could get rid of the lot by wiping the hard drive.
A note of caution here: there’s a difference between protecting your personal data and trying to erase your digital history; the legal eagles may not be impressed if they think you have something to hide.
5. Communicate with care
Don’t disclose too much online about your relationship break-up, especially on social media.
Technology can be both a help and a hindrance in communicating. Some separated couples may find the distance that text and email put between you helps keep emotions level when ‘talking’. Others may find they prefer to chat face-to-face or on the phone, and avoid any of the ambiguity or misunderstandings that can happen otherwise.
Don’t call, text, send an email or post to social media or forums when you’re feeling vindictive, hurt or angry, or if you’ve been drinking. Keep dealings with your ex and in-laws civil, and don’t make accusations – you will have to deal with these people in the future, especially if you have kids.
Facebook is not the place to vent your pain and anger at your ex, or keep your friends updated on your marital disputes. Not only is it undignified and potentially embarrassing, but you’re likely to have many social media friends in common who feel caught in the middle or who might relay your personal woes to the world. You may end up hurting yourself, your kids and your extended family.
No matter how many privacy settings and passwords you change and how many former in-laws you ‘unfriend’, private information can easily fall into the wrong hands, so it’s best not to post it in the first place.
Digital data is already being used in divorce courts in disputes about parenting skills, adultery and financial issues, so be careful you don’t incriminate yourself.
Lastly, however tempting it might be, refrain from stalking your ex, his/her new partner, or your former in-laws online.
6. Don’t get revenge. Get over it
Allow yourself time to grieve for your lost relationship, and then let it go.
Don’t trawl through old emails and text messages you exchanged – from those first tender texts to those rancorous rants of hate and spite. Same goes for all those digital photos of your romantic weekends away/engagement/wedding celebrations (you can go back to those when you’re feeling less vulnerable). You’ll only prolong the healing process.
Reach out to friends and family online, and use the internet to search for support groups, counselling, mediation, legal advice, coping tips and advice on parenting during and after divorce. The charity Relate, for example, has a useful parents’ guide to separation.
Eventually, you might even consider registering with a dating site…
Log back into life: Ctrl + Alt + Delete
Technology can be a fabulous tool for connecting couples and families, and for accessing, storing and sharing our valued photos, data, music and memories. But when those relationships sour, we have a complex web of shared digital assets to unravel. It won’t be easy, but by taking stock of your digital property and minding how you manage yourself and your private information online, you can navigate your break-up a little more smoothly and get on with your life.
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