Many couples are not only tied together in matrimony, but in their digital accounts too. If roughly half of marriages end in divorce, how do courts manage an equitable distribution of digital accounts such as Netflix, Amazon, Apple (and with House of the Dragon underway) HBO?
The Washington Post reports that the average American has upwards of 150 digital accounts, according to password-management company Dashlane. That’s a decades-long record of an autonomous life lived online.
If a breakup is going to be an ugly one, a vindictive ex-spouse can cause a lot of digital damage. For instance, if you share cloud storage, or an Apple ID with your ex-spouse, there is a risk everything – from your photos and documents to your browsing and email history can be revealed.
Moving out of the marital home is already a hard and emotional decision. But, now you are faced with taking precautions when you are about to leave your digital home.
As soon as divorce becomes a reality, you need to decide if it’s time to change all the passwords to the accounts you plan on keeping after separation. This is especially true if you share devices like a computer or tablet. Many sources tell you to remember your passwords and create new ones for each account.
Florida Equitable Distribution
I have written about equitable distribution in Florida before. In a proceeding for dissolution of marriage, in addition to all other remedies available to a court to do equity between the parties, a court must set apart to each spouse that spouse’s non-marital assets and liabilities.
However, when distributing the marital assets between spouses, a family court must begin with the premise that the distribution should be equal, unless there is a justification for an unequal distribution based on all relevant factors.
In Florida, nonmarital assets include things such as assets acquired separately by either party by will or by devise, income from nonmarital assets, and assets excluded as marital in a valid written agreement.
Importantly for a hi-tech divorce, non-marital assets would include assets acquired and liabilities incurred by either party before the marriage, and assets acquired and liabilities incurred in exchange for such assets and liabilities.
Netflix and Chill?
In some cases, a couple can divide, close, or even trade digital assets and decide which of the two households will keep an account. Sharing a Netflix account within your household, for example, may save money. But after divorce keep in mind that account sharing is only permitted for users within the same household. Netflix has announced it will crack down on illegal account sharing.
Putting aside the streaming services, like Netflix, which can easily be closed or limited, many couples may need to continue to share access to certain online accounts, even after a divorce or separation.
It is not hard to see why some accounts might need to stay active. For example, a couple’s joint checking account and credit card account may need to remain active so that certain bills during the divorce can be timely paid. Electronic access to statements and transactions; automatic bill payment services, medical insurance and cloud storage and document sites for photos and important documents and other files may be necessary too.
The law has not caught up with the digital divorce. There are no specific statutes for sharing accounts or establishing consequences should an ex-spouse or spouse change a password to lock out shared accounts.
Depending on the account, you may need to share a single login, set up separate logins to access the same account, or create a new, separate account in your own name. Anyone considering divorce has to secure their online identity, protect their passwords, protect their privacy, and most likely divide or close the shared streaming services.
The Washington Post article is here.