I recently had the pleasure of attending the National
Family Law Conference in Melbourne. One of the most interesting
conference sessions I attended was about how, if at all, the
definition of 'property' in family law matters is changing
in the 21st century.
As family lawyers, we readily accept that traditional assets
such as real estate, shares, investments, bank accounts, cars and
businesses are property for the purposes of family law proceedings.
As matters become more complex, the value of trusts and
self-managed super funds are also brought into issue. However, as
our reliance on online business and interaction explodes, we also
now need to consider the value of any online property, which may
not be something tangible we can hold or see, as part of a family
After listening to each of the speakers at the conference
session, I left thinking about a number of things, including:
Changes in technology mean the concept of money or currency is
no longer limited to dollars and cents issued by a government or
country; money can include cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin, which
have a tradeable value. The notion of trading goods or bartering
isn't new, but cryptocurrencies aren't traded goods. They
are online currencies that have a real time dollar value. The
currencies are hard to trace and can be easily hidden from a
spouse. The use of cryptocurrencies is increasing.
Online gaming activity and 'in game' purchases can have
a significant value and online gaming accounts (aside from gambling
sites) can be a way to store or hide funds in a family law
Online gaming accounts and cryptocurrency wallets are difficult
to locate and may not be traceable unless they are disclosed by the
The value of online businesses and apps can change quickly and
the value can change markedly within a very short period of time.
The most recent example is, of course, the Pokémon Go craze,
which, at its height, saw virtual Pokémon characters being
bought and sold online for thousands of dollars. These accounts are
now almost worthless as the popularity of the game has
Technology is moving at a much faster rate than our capacity to
recognise and value online businesses, gaming accounts and
What does this mean for family lawyers and parties undergoing
We need to ensure we turn our minds to online property when
considering the vital step of determining what the asset pool of a
marriage or relationship is. When asking someone about the property
and assets they or their partner own, it is important to ask
whether there are any apps, online businesses, online trading or
gaming accounts or cryptocurrencies that either of the spouses have
that may need to be valued or included for the purposes of a family
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The person named as an executor in the deceased's will has the right to arrange for the burial of the deceased's body.
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