Marriage and Virtual Property

If you are a married person, as I am luckily, do you know that you may share with your spouse at least four properties you were not aware of?  URLs, websites, email accounts, and Facebook profiles.  Although they are virtual properties, they are part of your common patrimony.  Furthermore, they may have some monetary value.

As with every good, the problem starts to become complex when there is a dispute.  Are the revenues of Adsense of your personal blog an earning or a profit?  It has its importance when valuing.  How much will your Facebook friends be valued in case of divorce?

Sally Richardson studied this classification in “Classifying Virtual Property in Community Property Regimes: Are My Facebook Friends Considered Earnings, Profits, Increases in Value, or Goodwill?”   She explains the four different applicable cases:

  • Earnings are what a spouse brings by his/her direct effort
  • Profits are what a spouse gets without exerting efforts (for instance rent)
  • Increase of the value property is what a spouse generates due to tangible efforts such as building a new room.
  • Goodwill is what a spouse generates due to intangible skills such as reputation or skill.

Is my URL, an earning or a profit?  There is no straightforward answer.  Sally explores the four types of properties and shows the complexity of the issue depending on the context.  It is far too complex to summarize here.

The paper is interesting to read if you are curious.  It clearly shows that our current legal framework is not yet adapted to virtual properties.  I am sure that soon it will have because sooner or later we will see spouses fight over their personal websites, or their common Facebook profile.   If these virtual properties are part of their career (for instance celebrities), then it will be juicy.

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