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Evaluating digital assets: There's a lot of bucks in bytes

When most people reflect on distributing assets during divorce, physical items like homes, retirement accounts, artwork or stock portfolios may immediately come to mind. With so many Americans tied to the internet, however, digital assets should also be considered. While many people may not market wares on Ebay or Etsy, their online presence on multiplayer online games, Facebook or iTunes will result in the accumulation of digital goods over time.

Within the category of digital property are various items of value: virtual and digital goods, contact lists, digital photos or videos. Regardless of the sentimental or monetary value, those assets developed online will need to be divided during divorce proceedings.

The fact that Florida is an "Equitable Distribution" state will influence how the property, physical or otherwise, is valued and assessed. Under the equitable distribution guidelines, property acquired during the marriage needs to be divided equally upon divorce. Property owned by one spouse before the marriage or possessions acquired as a gift are exempt from the division of assets.

When divorce attorneys seek to divvy up online possessions, they may choose to follow these guidelines:

1. Classify the assets

Digital assets include e-mail or social network accounts, digital media, blogs or data storage accounts. Information stored in the cloud, such as pictures, videos or music files also qualify as digital assets. Virtual assets refer to items bought, bartered and sold online in massively multiplayer online games (MMOG). These virtual games make real-world money in vast sums: free-to-play games generated 11.2 billion dollars annually in the Asia Pacific region in 2016. The point to draw from this statistic is that online weapons, fashion accessories or other must-have digital accoutrements have a value beyond one associated with ascending levels in a game.

2. Assign ownership

Divorce attorneys address this issue as they do material goods. Assets owned previous to the marriage are viewed as separate property. If, however, one spouse owned the digital property before a marriage and both spouses worked to develop that asset during the course of the marriage, the increased value of that asset would be divided between spouses. The distribution of digital assets like blogs or websites would proceed in this way.

3. Verify the value

While some assets may hold no monetary value, the sentimental worth of some digital possessions may serve as the source of the most vitriolic arguments during the partitioning of property. On the other hand, the aforementioned virtual assets can actually hold a good degree of monetary value, which can be determined using values assigned by a virtual marketplace. For example, the domain name for Insurance.com was sold for 35.6 million dollars in 2010.

4. Divide and assign assets

As with material items, digital assets can transfer ownership, be duplicated or designated for one spouse with recompense made to the other party engaged in proceedings. Referencing a website's terms of service will help divorce attorneys determine how the possessions should be allotted.

Upon reflection, you may find that the data stored on your hard drive, the cloud or the internet may be of worth. Given the complexity of evaluating the value of digital assets, it is recommended that those desiring a division of virtual property speak with a knowledgeable attorney to determine the best course of action to take.

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