But Who Gets the JPGs? Dealing with the Distribution of Digital Assets in a Maryland Divorce

With modern technology comes modern problems. That can be true in divorce as in other legal areas. One aspect of this is the very contemporary issue of electronic/digital assets. Digital assets can be complicated, as one person’s electronic files may be housed on a computer, hard drive or other storage device that belongs to another. Because these digital files may be things like emails, photos or videos with high sentimental value, those that are potentially embarrassing or harmful, or digital documents with important personal or financial information, resolving the distribution of these assets in a divorce is very important. To make sure that all of your assets, both electronic and physical, are distributed properly, be sure you have an experienced Maryland family law attorney on your side.

A recent case from Anne Arundel County was an example of this type of dispute. In the divorce, the husband agreed that he would return all of the wife’s computer files. This included the email archives from several email accounts.

The husband did not return all the files, however. The wife went back to court, this time seeking an order declaring the husband in contempt for his failure to deliver the files. The husband declared that he had deleted many of the files “in a fit of rage” a year before the spouses established the agreement for delivery of the emails. The wife then asked to review the husband’s hard drives. He asserted that the hard drives were damaged in his move out of the marital home and that he had thrown them away.

Eventually, the spouses worked out an agreement and the husband agreed to turn over several pieces of hardware for the wife’s inspection. An expert combed through 12 hard drives and found 35,000 files allegedly belonging to the wife. The job took more than 250 hours and cost in excess of $8,700.

The trial judge awarded the wife her expert fees and $9,000 in attorney fees. The appeals court reversed that award of fees because the law did not permit such an award in a contempt case. The appellate court explained that, when it comes to the award of fees in litigated matters, Maryland follows something called the “American rule.” That rule says that, unless there’s an agreement, rule, statute or case law exception, those kinds of fees cannot be awarded unless the trial judge makes a finding that the opposing party acted in bad faith.

In this post-divorce case, the trial court never made any explicit findings that the husband acted in bad faith. (In order for a prevailing party to recover, the opposing party must have engaged in a particular type of bad faith. Only bad faith in “maintaining or defending any proceeding” triggers an entitlement to fees. Bad faith in terms of violating a court order does not trigger an entitlement to fees.)

For skillful and knowledgeable legal representation in your family law case, contact experienced Maryland family law attorney Anthony A. Fatemi. Our office has been helping our clients to work toward productive outcomes in their divorce, child custody and visitation cases for many years. To find out how we can help you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More blog posts:

New U.S. Supreme Court Ruling Triggers Win for Maryland Husband in Military Benefits Dispute, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, Sept. 28, 2017

Divorcing in Maryland: What To Do With The Family Home?, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, Dec. 28, 2015


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