High-asset divorces don’t have to be long, expensive and messy or even combative. Two power couples who have divorced in recent years have demonstrated that.
When Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda announced their divorce two years ago after more than a quarter century of marriage, people speculated about what would happen to their $146 billion in assets and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They had no prenuptial agreement even though Bill Gates was already one of the wealthiest people in the world when they married.
They did have a separation contract, which is a type of postnuptial agreement. The couple apparently negotiated it before announcing their split. This let them proceed with the divorce relatively smoothly and privately. While the terms weren’t disclosed, the two pledged to continue their philanthropic work.
Just two years prior to the Gates divorce, Amazon co-founder Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie Scott managed to divide their billions in assets without drama. They too had no prenup – although they married when Bezos wasn’t rich. Scott got $38 billion – making her the world’s wealthiest woman.
Not all high-asset divorces go as smoothly as the Gates and Bezos splits
Take the founder of Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), Richard Stephenson. Stephenson isn’t a billionaire, but he has amassed a multimillion-dollar fortune. His eight-year divorce battle ended in 2017 – 26 years after he and his wife married. One issue over the years involved the $400,000 in monthly support his wife sought. She got considerably less but did receive, among other things, $6.5 million in a tax-free lump sum payment.
Interestingly, this couple did have a prenup. One can only speculate how much longer the divorce would have taken without one. It’s not known how much the divorce cost both of them.
What lessons can be learned from these three examples of high-asset divorces? Perhaps one is that if you and your spouse determine that you want your divorce to proceed smoothly, you can make it happen.
Getting a postnuptial agreement (or amending the one you have) before the divorce can help. While a prenup can certainly serve a purpose, if your fortunes change considerably after that prenup is signed, it may be of little use. What is essential is to get experienced legal guidance as soon as you determine that divorce may be on the horizon.