What Happens to Shared Online Accounts in a Divorce?

If your family is like mine, then you share pretty much everything. My wife is using my iTunes account for both her iPhone and iPad, we both enjoy a single Netflix account, and we each have our own playlists on Spotify. When you make the decision to share your online account with your spouse, you may be setting yourself up for problems down the road.

No one wants to get divorced, and I can only hope this never happens in our marriage. With roughly half of all marriages in the US ending in divorce, it is an unfortunate reality for many of us. Things don’t always work out, but what happens when does occur and you’ve been sharing online accounts? Do you or your spouse get the iTunes music library? Who gets the Steam games you’ve both enjoyed on the family computer? How do you divide Google Play apps or licenses for Adobe Creative Cloud?

Note: I am not a lawyer, nor do I guarantee any information in this article to be accurate in relation to the laws and statutes of your region. I recommend researching specific account terms and laws in your area before making a decision.

Simply put, the law has yet to catch up with a modern sense of ownership. We no longer own physical goods that can be passed between people. I can’t simply hand my wife her favorite songs on iTunes and keep the ones I like for myself. The account is tied to one person, and that person gets the benefit of whatever is on the account.

Most Licensed Content is Licensed to an Individual, Not a Family

Knowledge is your most powerful tool here. Knowing what is and isn’t covered by a company’s terms of service makes all the difference in the world. Most online cloud services do not allow (or at least support) married couples. You may (in the case of Adobe Creative Cloud) install a single program on two different computers, but that doesn’t mean Adobe wants you and your spouse using it. Licenses are, in majority, for a single individual.

What About Community Property States?

My wife and I live in Texas. This is a community property state where we share debts, income, and property rights. She has every bit as much of a right to whatever I own as I do toward her property. Our cars are both of ours by law, and that’s how things are done in Texas. It’s different in other states where each member of a marriage has their own individual property. It’s important to note here that licenses are not owned, they’re rented. You don’t own OS X Mountain Lion, Adobe Premiere Pro, or iPhone apps. You pay for the license to use them, and that license is still technically owned by the company selling it. At best, you have a legal right to use a product you paid for (unless that company revokes its right).

Because you don’t own that software, you don’t really have a perceived right to it. If the license was taken out in one person’s name, then that person is the one that gets to keep it when all is said and done. There are cases where licenses can be transferred, but they’re rare and dependent on the company offering the license. If you can transfer a license, then you’re in luck.

You can’t, under any circumstances, simply split an iTunes account into two different accounts. Licenses are tied to a single account and you may just need to bite the bullet and repurchase the songs/apps you wish to keep on a new account that is exclusive to yourself. Simply copying the songs to a new account may actually be illegal in that it violates the terms and conditions of service.

What Precautions Can Someone Take?

Make sure that services are subscribed to by the individual who will use it the most. That way (when there is a split), you can each have licenses to whatever accounts you benefit from the most. It’s cleaner that way.

It may mean having your own different iTunes accounts. I know, it sounds crazy, but let’s be honest here. There comes a time when every married couple has to make the decision to get a joint bank account or keep things separate. It’s up to you. Not every online service permits shared accounts, even among marriages.

Read terms of use carefully. The more you know about a specific account’s terms, the better prepared you’ll be for unforeseen circumstances down the road. Trust me, you don’t want to be burned by a $300 Final Cut Pro purchase being handed over to your spouse in the event of a divorce.

What about you? Have you (or someone you know) been burned by a divorce in this way? What tips would you suggest a newly wed couple take?

Woman On Fire by Vera Kratochvil

22 comments On What Happens to Shared Online Accounts in a Divorce?

  • My god thats a senstive subject, but really had me thinking, actually i never thought of such scenario to be honest :D, precautions listed are useful and i think a reminder for us all to keep our professional life seperate from personal life, actually i would giveaway the media content stuff if i had joint license but in case of software as u pointed out it is transferable so things can work out.

  • A related issue is that of inheritance. Suppose a parent lives with you and shares the various things you list and even pays for them. What happens to all the downloaded things when that parent passes away?

  • This is a good article.
    Sharing online accounts is not something I would really do too much. I use my brothers Netflix account, but that’s about it. I am the kind of person who doesn’t like to share much things (Not to be greedy) but because everything I do on here is the things I do. I don’t usually like letting people use my computer, because well… It’s mine, and everything I do online is with this one computer.
    Sharing online accounts, I don’t think I would share online account with my spouse. Not thats theres something wrong with that, but, things it’s simpler to have separate accounts. For the different things you do.
    And as you know, these companies like to have everything with one account. Because they are licensed and built for one person, and mainly one person.
    Sharing, can make things disorganized.

  • I think the song said it right… “gotta keep them separated”

  • I never share any accounts on anything. I have a partner, and we have our own stuff. Not just for banking, but any emails, social networking, anything. Why? Because we all like our privacy, and security if anything bad (hopefully not!) happens. I call it being smart.

  • good article

  • i am not like most people, i dont care who you are i wont give out passwords for anything important. it takes quite alot to get trust from me. i do let people that i deeply trust where to find passwords and information if something ever happens to me. i also dont share any accounts with people, now something like tunes home sharing program, that’s a little different.

  • I will save this Article. I will read it when I get married.

  • good thing i never share

  • I’m happy sharing my amazon account with my girlfriend since I bought her a kindle for our anniversary and I let her buy books using my account. In case we ever break up, we agreed that she would be able to keep the kindle, but she’d have to buy/find her own books. [Gutenberg.org ftw]

  • It all depends on how the divorce/break up would go. Im sure there are some couples out there, that when they do split up, still remain friends. In that case perhaps they still wouldn’t mind sharing an account of some sort. It really depends on the people you are dealing with.

  • I think that the single user model for software ownership, long held up as the only model, actually works in favor of your mentioning that the law has yet to catch up with our modern world. It can be used in that each individual keeps their own email, software separate. I want reiterate your article but in each instance, except for tx common law where the law takes care of that, you state exactly what I would do: it; whoever uses that divice the most, bam. I’ve never been through a divorce luckily so I don’t know and strangely, the couples I do know who’ve gone through a divorce (all before the last five yrs when things have really chaned ) never really thought as much about technology as they did about the kids. I would go with all of your suggestions and they nicely align with the user agreements.

  • I would have a fair separation of the accounts between the wife and husband. That’s the best way, but if the accounts cannot be separated fairly, that cause a bigger problem and more things to fight about in court only if the accounts are that important.

  • I would have a fair separation of the accounts between the wife and husband. That’s the best way, but if the accounts cannot be separated fairly, that cause a bigger problem and more things to fight about in court only if the accounts are that important.

  • Well its a really hard choice but in the end the person who paid for it pretty much keeps it so yeaa…

  • also if its about an online shared profile i pretty much suggest delete it and each person can like make a single acount

  • Mohamed Hisham Hadjazi

    I can’t think of me ever sharing anything online not even with my second half =/

  • Those accounts should not be shared. There should be a fair seperation between them!


  • Really interesting story. Here in germany a friend of mine uses an apple account for ~4 devices. 2 iPhones an iPad and I think an MacBook. I’m not sure here. But no one is know that other users are using those devices. So it’s okay.

  • louis percival

    I am not married myself but it is something we all need to think of, great tips here thanks for reminding us and keeping us aware 🙂

  • It’s $9 a month. Calm down. #$15amaawesome

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