Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Paying Attention to the Internet and Social Media in Divorces
A few days ago, I learned of an old friend from years ago who had recently passed away. After his death, I discovered that he had a Face Book page and it was still up. It got me thinking about how social media sites seem timeless, and I wondered what normally happens after the principal dies. This may seem like a bit of a stretch for a blog about family law issues, but there is probably some overlap between probate, family law and estate planning regarding how social media sites react to death and maybe divorce. Fortunately, I was able to find a answer to my question. For an excellent review of how Face Book, MySpace, various Google accounts and Twitter operate after a person's death, take a look at the recent post by Jacqui Cheng in Law & Disorder.
I have previously written here and here and here about the increasingly prominent role of Internet postings on various social media sites that come up in divorce and other family law cases. These posts generally were cautioning people to be careful about what they write on Internet sites. (They also need to be careful about texting.)
Another possibility that I haven't seen addressed and haven't heard anything about yet is the possibility that an Internet site is a valuable asset which could be included in the property division in a divorce. There are certainly reports about blogs and web sites that become very profitable and generate large incomes. There is value in such a site, but it may be pretty difficult to put a value on it. On the other hand, something that produces thousands of dollars of income a month or year can't be ignored.
In a similar vein, social media can have value that should or could be considered in a property division. A Face Book page might have some commercial value, depending on how it is focused and managed, and a Fan Page on Face Book is specifically available for businesses. Twitter accounts, You Tube and other new media can also have commercial value. The names associated with various social media, blogs or a web site can have commercial value and can be sold, just as a web site can be sold. Licensing agreements are becoming more popular in businesses that rely on the Internet, and the agreements can have value.
People should be aware of the potential issues that will arise in divorce cases where the parties have active on-line businesses and use the social media to promote them. If you or your spouse have such a business, be sure to let your attorney know. If anyone has had a divorce where ownership or value of an Internet business was an issue, please let us know about it and how it was resolved. Just like death, divorce will not necessarily end an on-line business.