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What the Bezos divorce can teach us

On Behalf of | May 6, 2019 | high asset divorce | 0 comments

News of Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos’ divorce have ricocheted all over the web. This is no surprise considering the world’s richest couple is worth an estimated $137 billion. There were also the salacious details of Jeff’s phone getting hacked, so sexts to new girlfriend Lauren Sanchez were published by the National Enquirer at the same time as the divorce announcement in early January. Jeff Bezos responded with accusations of extortion and blackmail.

The whole thing seemed like it was unraveling pretty fast, but whereas many messy high-stakes divorces can get ugly, the Bezos divorce was aggressively amicable along the same lines of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s “conscious uncoupling.”

No prenup, no problem

It is generally recommended that couples with large or complex estates draft a prenup or postnup agreement to ensure that each spouse’s financial situation is clear. The Bezos had married 25 years ago, and it was a few years away from Jeff launching Amazon.

This means that a vast majority of his business interest (which include a controlling 16 percent of Amazon, ownership of the Washington Post, Whole Foods, other businesses and large tracts of land) were marital assets. Moreover, while New York divides property equitably, Washington State where the couple filed April 4 for divorce is a community property state, which means the couple splits marital assets 50-50.

The settlement was not even close to half. Highlights include:

  • Jeff retains all interest in the Washington Post and Blue Origin.
  • Jeff retains 12% of Amazon plus voting control over MacKenzie’s 4% of stock unless she sells on the open market.
  • Jeff remains the richest man in the world worth $110 billion, while MacKenzie is the third richest woman in the world with an estimated worth of $35 billion.

High asset but low impact

The Bezos have their reasons for choosing this unflaggingly positive approach. There is no doubt that it is in keeping with the couple’s character and relationship dynamic. The couples’ four children will no doubt benefit from this as well. However, it should be noted that it is also in the best financial interests of both Jeff and MacKenzie – the stock market has responded negatively but ultimately positively to the twists of the divorce.

Amicable divorces still need guidance

The Bezos divorce will go down as one of the most expensive in history despite the lack of litigation. Amicable divorce agreements must consider all parts of the marital estate to ensure that parental and individual rights, as well as business interests, are still protected.