Your shared electronic accounts could be a bone of contention when it comes to divorce.
As if making decisions about the future of the children, deciding who gets the car and who stays in the house don’t make divorces messy enough, there is still the problem of what to do with the iTunes account.
In a digital age of shared accounts, splitting assets following a separation is a pixelated area. During the past six months, New Zealand divorce lawyer Jeremy Sutton has dealt with a handful of clients who have involved their legal teams in the splitting of their iTunes accounts – and he expects it to become more of an issue in future. “The first thing to say is that people don’t expect that iTunes would be an item that would be discussed in relationship property… “It’s not an obvious item like the house, the cars and the kids.”
Some of Auckland-based Sutton’s clients have spent tens of thousands of dollars on music, books, movies and audio for their collection. There’s also the kids’ games and movie and work material. The value of an extensive iTunes library is hard to determine when you add the time people put into creating their library and their sentimental attachment, he says, adding that an iTunes collection is more likely to grow in value over time rather than depreciate. “Obviously it’s not something people think about. People are not contemplating at the start that this will happen.” Things like the iTunes account was often an afterthought and according to current iTunes policy, accounts cannot be split or replicated.
“It’s niggly, it’s awkward.” The option of continuing to share the account after a separation would violate the clean break policy and would be infringing on the parties’ privacy. Couples needed to be aware of the disadvantages of sharing iTunes accounts and be willing to discuss it between themselves or with their lawyers in the event of a separation, Sutton said. “iTunes need to look at their own policy frankly.” But things don’t stop at the iTunes account; there are airpoints, supermarket loyalty points such as Countdown’s Onecard, Flybuys, who can share what images or content on social media and who gets the sponsored child. Sutton said it had became apparent when dealing with clients that a lot of couples shared air miles accounts.
An Air NZ spokeswoman said the airline did not get involved in matrimonial property matters but Airpoints members can transfer up to 50 per cent of their unredeemed Airpoints Dollars to other Airpoints members through Sharepoints or by gifting their points. As people become evermore connected through social media there’s also the matter of who gets the selfies and lewd texts. According to the New York Daily News newspaper, couples in the Big Apple and beyond are signing agreements determining what images and information can be shared on digital forums, with wealthy violators facing fines as high as $50,000.
And in the past Auckland QC Anne Hinton has said, “it’s probably not the world’s stupidest idea”.
Digital material could be defined as property under the Property Relationships Act. “You certainly would be able to make provision for it.” She said there had been “a few analogies” with the US situation, but mostly in settlement, rather than prenup situations, “where there have been incriminating or very personal videos, and there is provision sought for their return or destruction”. Sutton said these types of electronic assets might seem insignificant but things could get nasty during a separation; and one party might have a strong attachment to a particular account or loyalty points.
While males were traditionally happy to walk away from assets like the couch and the whiteware in a separation, it could well be a different case when it came to the iTunes account, he said.
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