Divorce Advice: Who Gets Custody of The Memories?

By Jackie Pilossoph, Editor-in-chief, Divorced Girl Smiling, Love Essentially columnist and author

I wrote a blog a few weeks ago called “What Should you Do with your marriage Mementos?” offering divorce advice on what to do with your dress, your rings, etc. What was interesting was, a got quite a few comments about photos that included, “I threw my wedding album in the trash,” and  “I never want to look at him (or her) ever again” and “I burned my photos.”

Don’t get mad at me for saying this, but burning your photos is only burning yourself. I’m divorced so I can say this with authority. Yes, I was devastated and angry and hurt and sad when my marriage didn’t work out, but burning or getting rid of my photos never ever crossed my mind. That’s like erasing a really great memory from your past, just because it ended badly. (Read my last blog if you want to hear more about forever turning into not forever.)

Bonnie Hillman Shay is a professional organizer who wrote a guest post with suggestions on what you can do with your photos after a divorce. I agree with Shay on so many of these things, but the only difference is, I think dividing up photos doesn’t have to be so perfectly equal. But, Shay’s post offers really good divorce advice, and you can follow it, or just use it as a guideline when it comes to your family photos. 

Who Gets the Photos and Videos in a Divorce?  How About Joint Custody? by Bonnie Hillman Shay

Going through a divorce is a stressful experience and figuring out who gets the family photo collection can be a tough discussion. The good news is that joint custody can be readily achieved in our digital age.

A typical family photo/video collection will include:

  1. Printed photos (loose and/or in albums).
  2. Digital photo files.
  3. Movies and videos in a variety of formats.
  4. Film negatives.
  5. Slides.

The answer for most families involves scanning original photos and slides, copying digital files and transferring movies/videos to digital format, thus making the photo and video collection shareable.

Here is my personal solution from when I divorced several years ago.

1.     Printed photos that were in albums.

Our family had 120 photo albums covering c20 years of our life together.  I went through each of the albums and pulled out a selection of 4×6 photos for each family member (my ex-husband, each of our daughters and myself), kept some extras in a box for school projects and “released” the rest. Now we each have 3-4 shoe box size containers (acid free and archival quality) filled with photos.

I scanned my portion so I have it digitally captured for use and back-up if anything should ever happen to the original photos.

You may think it would be difficult to edit 17 years of photos, but with the following rules of thumb the job was very manageable.

  • I focused on quality not quantity. More important to have high quality photos that I can see and enjoy than high volume that becomes hard to manage.
  • I focused on people, not scenery. Do I really need a photo of the Swiss Alps? I kept the photo of our family riding the gondola up the Swiss Alps, but the dozen photos of the Alps alone were released.
  • I made sure each person’s portion told our family’s story, but no duplicates were in any one person’s collection. Remember, quality, not quantity.

NOTE:  If there aren’t enough photos to provide each family member with a selection of printed photos, simply edit down the whole collection in to an edited version, scan, and give each family member the same set of digital images.


2.     Digital photo files.

I simply copied all of the files on to a hard drive so that my ex-husband and I each have a copy of everything. At some point I will edit these photos to a more manageable quantity and give my daughters and my ex-husband a copy of the edited collection.

3.     Movies and videos in a variety of formats.

We also have family movies on VHS and DVD and I will eventually transfer those to digital format. We have quite a few videos, so I will start with just a sampling to enjoy and eventually transfer them all.

4. Negatives.

I discarded all of our negatives. Realistically, I am never going to access negatives (we all know how difficult they are to see and figure out the content) and furthermore, once I scan the printed pictures I have, I can print from a digital file if necessary and would never have need for a negatives.

5. Slides.

We didn’t have any slides, but if we did, I would have edited them down to the images I wanted to keep and scan them as well.

In conclusion. We achieved joint custody (and beyond with each family member having our family story in photos!) And with our whole family photo collection now in digital form, I can make photo books if I choose, I can share them on a website or any other option for sharing digital photos. The bonus is that our family’s story is backed up if anything should happen to the original printed. That’s peace of mind!

If you are recently separated, and reading this is making you nauseous, because you cant even think about this right now, then don’t. Just wait awhile. Just keep the photos in the closet until you are ready. But PLEASE, don’t throw them away or burn them in a rage of anger or emotion. You might regret it later. That’s all i’m sayin’. 

One last thing, no matter how you divide up your photos, everyone gets custody of the memories. You don’t need a photo to remember a really, really happy time in your life. You just need your heart and the guts to let yourself remember it.

Thank you Bonnie! 

Bonnie Hillman Shay is a professional organizer and the owner of her company, Mariposa Creative Solutions. Learn more: mariposaphotoorganizing.com


Buy novels by Jackie Pilossoph



Featured Expert Articles

Jackie Pilossoph Jackie Pilossoph
Creator, Editor-in-chief, Divorced Girl Smiling
20 Things I Wish I Could Have Told My Newly Separated Self

20 Things I Wish I Could Have Told My Newly Separated Self

Elaine Koby Mossr Elaine Koby Moss
Vice-president and Senior Advisor, Vestor Capital
Want Financial Security After Divorce? Here’s Your Checklist

Want Financial Security After Divorce? Here’s Your Checklist

Dan Stefani Dan Stefani
Divorce Attorney, Principal, Katz & Stefani
Thinking About Divorce? Here Is Your Legal Consultation

Thinking About Divorce? Here Is Your Legal Consultation

Jeremy Woods Jeremy Woods
Senior Residential Mortgage Banker, CIBC
Your Mortgage And Divorce: 4 Reasons To Refinance ASAP

Your Mortgage And Divorce: 4 Reasons To Refinance ASAP

Leslie Glazier Leslie Glazier
Real Estate Agent, @properties, Certified Real Estate Divorce Specialist
Do I Have To Sell My House In a Divorce? Here’s What You Need To Know

Do I Have To Sell My House In a Divorce? Here’s What You Need To Know

Jackie Pilossoph

Editor-in-chief: Jackie Pilossoph

Divorce is a journey. Live it with grace, courage and gratitude. Peace and joy are on the way! Jackie Pilossoph is the creator and Editor-In-Chief of Divorced Girl Smiling. The author of the novels, Divorced Girl Smiling and Free Gift With Purchase, Pilossoph also writes the weekly dating and relationships advice column, “Love Essentially”, published in the Chicago Tribune Pioneer Press and the Chicago Tribune online. Additionally, she is a Huffington Post contributor. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism from Boston University.

3 Responses to “Divorce Advice: Who Gets Custody of The Memories?”

  1. K

    Loving your blog.. THANK YOU for putting time and effort into identifying, in words, how I am feeling and what I am going through. You are a support to me and I greatly appreciate it! Finding reasons to smile… =)

  2. Singles Warehouse

    In a breakup recently I know someone who got all of the ‘memories’ apart from a few…later it turned out that she just didn’t want them and kept the things she wanted – like an expensive TV.

    Some people old onto memories (I’m one of them) and for others keeping them in their head is enough.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *