Bill and Melinda Gates Announce Split and Ultra High-Net-Worth Divorce With More Than Money at Stake: How They Can Keep Their Divorce Amicable

Bill Gates and Melinda Gates announced Monday they’re getting a divorce. “After a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage,” read the couple’s statement, posted to the Microsoft co-founder’s Twitter account.

The couple, who share three children, a son, Rory, 21, and two daughters, Jennifer, 25, and Phoebe, 18, have been married for 27 years. They also share the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, worth an estimated 40 billion dollars, according to People.

Of the foundation “that works all over the world to enable all people to lead healthy, productive lives,” and its mission, the Gateses assure its future remains strong, stating, “We continue to share a belief in that mission and will continue our work together at the foundation.”

As for their personal lives, the philanthropic duo, who have given away more than 36 billion dollars between 1994 and 2018, says differently: “[W]e no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives.”

Bill first met Melinda after she started working as a project manager at Microsoft. Before deciding to marry her, Bill revealed in the 2019 Netflix series “Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates” that he made a pros and cons list on a whiteboard.  

The fourth richest person in the world, according to Forbes, with an estimated net worth of 130.5 billion, Bill Gates, 65, follows Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ footsteps as he heads toward an ultra-high-net-worth divorce.

Bezos and his wife MacKenzie Scott finalized their divorce in 2019 in a reported 38 billion dollar settlement. There was no prenup. MacKenzie Scott remarried earlier this year.

The Gateses reportedly don’t have a prenuptial agreement either. However, the couple does have a separation agreement in place. Melinda, who was the one to file for divorce, stated in court documents obtained by TMZ that the “marriage is irretrievably broken.”   

Concluding their statement, Bill and wife Melinda, 56, made one request: “We ask for space and privacy for our family as we begin to navigate this new life,” demonstrating an awareness that money doesn’t always buy happiness. They need to adjust and heal, just like anyone else.

So how can Bill and Melinda Gates, or any high-net-worth client, make a high-asset divorce run smoother?

A high-net-worth divorce doesn’t necessarily have to become a circus or take years to finalize. With awareness, a couple with extensive assets can emerge from a divorce financially and emotionally sound, ready for a solid future. But it will require a commitment from both parties to ensure that happens. As a Seattle family law attorney, here are a few of my tips to keep tensions at bay. 

Put the kids first.

No matter what ages they are, divorce can shake children. Recall the scene in the movie “It’s Complicated” when the Adlers’ three grown children realized the divorce was still going to stick following their parents’ brief affair years later. It’s not often kids want to see Mom and Dad get a divorce, even if they’re adults themselves.

Based on the statement issued by Bill and Melinda, it seems as if they have an awareness of the impact their divorce will have on the entire family, not just the two of them. When divorcing, regardless of how much money and assets are up for grabs, it’s crucial to protect what money cannot buy, and that’s children’s emotional wellbeing.

Using kids, even older ones, as pawns in a divorce can wreak havoc on the divorce process, costing couples and their families much more than money. Better to protect the intangible first, most important of which are the parental relationships. I like to tell my Seattle divorce clients to ask themselves: “How will my actions today affect my kids tomorrow?”    

Commit to transparency.

Sorting through the finances of a high-net-worth couple will probably take longer than a couple whose assets are easily trackable and straightforward. I tell my Seattle high-net-worth divorce clients to prepare themselves mentally for that, meaning a high-asset divorce won’t generally be a quickie divorce.

That said, a high-asset divorce doesn’t have to take years either. Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Scott ended their marriage fairly quickly, all things considered. It’s the reason why she was able to marry someone else and move on with her life.  

Hiding assets, not being forthcoming with documents that have to go to the other side anyway, and committing fraud will only make a divorce more grueling, not to mention could land a person in a lot of trouble. Additionally, these tactics negatively affect the soon-to-be-ex and the children, if there are any.

Clients can avoid all of this by simply committing to transparency from the beginning. If the other party isn’t, it’s still better to lead the way and not do as they do. Given Bill and Melinda’s commitment to remain partners in their foundation and maintain an ongoing professional relationship, I’m hopeful this signals a willingness to be open and honest in their ultra-high-net-worth divorce.  

Hire representation early on in the process.

Bill and Melinda appear to have gotten it right by showing up to court with a separation agreement already in hand. Also popular in Seattle divorces, where I practice, it likely means that when they first recognized their marriage might be in jeopardy, they sought counsel to help work out their arrangements outside the courtroom and before filing.

Putting a separation agreement in place can make the entire divorce process run smoother. Not only does it demonstrate a commitment by both parties to the divorce process and resolving what’s at stake amicably, which can include money and parenting time, it also shows a willingness to listen to the guidance of a divorce attorney from the beginning.

A high-net-worth family lawyer who understands the importance of working together with a spouse in the dissolution of a marriage can do a lot toward keeping a couple’s relationship strong even after they’re no longer a couple, which is what children count on.

As for Bill and Melinda, they may no longer be a couple. But to their kids, they’ll always be Mom and Dad, and I’m here in Seattle cheering them on as they navigate their new partnership — as co-parents, their most important venture yet.  

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