Marriages fail for many reasons. Some marriages fail because a spouse is unfaithful. One spouse may be a poor parent, or the couple may be incompatible. In many cases, money problems lead to a divorce. Even though it’s usually less expensive for two people to live together than apart, often one spouse decides that the other spouse isn’t contributing their fair share.
So, it comes as quite a surprise that one of the richest couples, Bill and Melinda Gates, recently announced that they will be divorcing. The couple has been married for 27 years. They married later in life after developing their careers. In the case of Bill Gates, his career revolutionized the world with the invention of programs to run the personal computer. They both raised three children who are now adults.
Both seemed to have compatible interests – namely, running a foundation, worth $50 billion according to the Washington Post, which has the goal of fighting poverty, disease, and inequity around the world. They were both active in helping address and fund the development and distribution of vaccines for COVID-19 which has caused an international pandemic.
The Gateses issued identical joint statements, which they posted on Twitter that “we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives.”
The divorce of Bill and Melinda and other high-asset couples like Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos clearly indicates that money doesn’t necessarily buy happiness. While they don’t have to worry about having a roof over their heads, providing for their children’s education, having health coverage, and many other daily living concerns, their divorces indicate that there’s much more that binds couples together than financial security.
Older couples are divorcing more frequently
According to the Washington Post, “As the stigma surrounding divorce has eroded, the divorce rate for Americans 50 and older has doubled since the 1990s. Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos were 55 and 49, respectively, when they divorced. Al and Tipper Gore split while in their 60s.”
One reason for the increasing numbers of “gray divorces” could be that parents feel their jobs are done. Once the children are old enough to move out of the house, many older couples realize that all they have left in common are the kids, and that they have drifted apart over time. Others may start feeling their own mortality more, and decide that they’d rather spend the rest of the lives in a more fulfilling role than spouse.
Finally, the pandemic has forced spouses (no matter their wealth or age) to live with others more directly than they did before. Whether or not it played a role in the “irretrievable differences” that the Gateses cited has not been determined.
Divorce issues when high-asset couples divorce
Many spouses who accumulate wealth before they marry have a prenuptial agreement. A prenup identifies what property the spouses consider marital property and what property is not marital property. A prenuptial agreement identifies how marital property will be divided in the event of a divorce. This identification includes setting forth what property each spouse will keep entirely and what property will be divided with their spouse. The prenup may also set forth exactly how marital property will be divided, the terms of any buyout, and any other interests.
Surprisingly, according to the International Business Times, the Gateses did not have a prenup agreement. They have apparently signed a separation agreement – essentially a postnuptial agreement. The assets and debts will be divided according to the separation agreement.
Further, Melinda Gates did not ask for spousal support. In many high-asset divorces involving long-term marriages, a spouse either seeks alimony/spousal support or agrees to waive their right to spousal support in return for a larger share of the property division.
International Business Times stated that the net worth of Bill Gates is estimated at $146 billion. Melinda now owns 14.1 million shares of Canadian Railway Co. and 2.94 million shares of Auto Nation Inc. If the property is divided equally, Melinda would have a “net worth of $65.25 billion,” according to Forbes making her even richer than “MacKenzie Scott, ex-wife to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who is worth $59.8 billion.”
The three children are all adults so there is no need to determine the custody of the children. Nor is there a need to determine child support. Normally, in high-asset cases, the spouses will prepare wills to direct what assets each child will receive when the parents die. In high-asset cases, the spouses/parents often make lifetime arrangements for their children such as creating trusts or making gifts to the children while everyone is living.
The Gates family appears to have decided that first-rate educations and some funds are enough for each child to be happy. The bulk of the assets will be used for the Gates Foundation or for the personal needs and wants of each spouse.
At the Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates, we fight for the rights of our clients, no matter what their net worth is. Many divorce disputes can be resolved through negotiation, mediation, or a collaborative divorce. When spouses can’t reach an agreement, we’re ready to protect your personal and financial interests in court. To discuss divorces, property division, alimony, custody, child support, and prenups – no matter your income level – please call 615-977-9370 or complete our contact form to schedule an appointment. We maintain offices in Franklin, Columbia, and Brentwood, Tennessee.