Ask Giz: Who Gets Custody of Shared Digital Memories When You Break Up?

Illustration for article titled Ask Giz: Who Gets Custody of Shared Digital Memories When You Break Up?

When memories can live forever online, there's bound to be relationship issues, so we enlisted our favorite love doctor, Debby Herbenick, to share some advice. The question: When it's all over, who gets custody of those shared digital memories?

We humans love our photos. Thanks to digital cameras, we take thousands more photos than we ever did before—some cute, some funny and others, quite scandalous.

Often in relationships, people upload their photos to Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Kodak Gallery or other photo sharing sites. Other times, they never leave a person's phone or camera.


While the photos are of a twosome's shared life together, they are technically the password protected property of only one person. When two people split, the one-sided ownership of the photos may become achingly apparent.

On the surface this is simply a permissions issue. But all's fair in love and war and, at a deeper level, the partner who uploaded the photos may find that by deleting photos or changing their ex's ability to view them, they can effectively control their ex's ability to "remember" or have access to these memories.

If you find yourself blocked, you can politely ask for global access to the photos or to specific ones you liked, but you can't force the issue (nor do you want to desperately chase down your ex over megapixels).


If you find yourself the owner of said photos, it is indeed your right to restrict access but is that how you want to end things? If you want to delete the photos as part of moving on, consider giving your ex fair warning, so that he or she can remove any photos before you get rid of them from your Facebook or Flickr. And, for the love of kindness everywhere, please don't keep photos of your shared children or pets away from an ex. Breakups and divorce are hard enough without both parties having fair access to these types of memories.

Going forward, I tend to suggest that people save copies of photos they want while things are still good. Save uploaded photos to your own hard drive, Bump your iPhone photos or ask your partner to send them to you in the moment or when you're lying in bed the next morning looking back over them.


Even if you can't imagine a time when you and your beloved will be fighting over photos, you might find yourself—somewhere down the road —wishing you could fawn over the memories or, alternatively, CatPaint your ex into the Cat Lady you always knew she was.

Image CC licensed from Flickr user basykes

Illustration for article titled Ask Giz: Who Gets Custody of Shared Digital Memories When You Break Up?

Read more of Dr. Debby's relationship advice here.

Debby Herbenick, PhD is a Research Scientist and Associate Director of The Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University, a sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute and author of Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction. She blogs at


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This memory thing is getting out of control?? custody of pictures?? Seriusly dr debby, who in their right minds would take it to this level of demanding photographic custody.

just press ctrl+c, seriously!!!

How dysfunctional does she think someone can really be?