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Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie Bezos are divorcing after 25 years of marriage, the couple announced in a joint statement on Twitter.
“We want to make people aware of a development in our lives. As our family and close friends know, after a long period of loving exploration and trial separation, we have decided to divorce and continue our shared lives as friends. We feel incredibly lucky to have found each other and deeply grateful for every one of the years we have been married to each other. If we had known we would separate after 25 years, we would do it all again. We’ve had such a great life together as a married couple, and we also see wonderful futures ahead, as parents, friends, partners in ventures and projects, and as individuals pursuing ventures and adventures. Though the labels might be different, we remain a family, and we remain cherished friends.
Jeff & MacKenzie.”
With a personal stake in Amazon estimated to be worth $160bn, Mr Bezos, 54, is the world’s wealthiest man. The question on everyone’s lips now is what will the financial settlement look like on their divorce?
It is quite possible that a settlement could make MacKenzie the world's richest woman, especially if they split their assets 50/50.
In America, states like Washington use the concept of “community property”, whereby assets accumulated during the marriage are communal and divided 50/50 if the marriage ends. Mr and Mrs Bezos first met while working together at a New York hedge fund in the early 1990s. One year later he founded Amazon and the couple have been together since, as Amazon's valuation briefly swelled beyond $1 trillion last year. This January, Amazon overtook Microsoft to become the world’s most valuable listed company.
For divorces in England and Wales, Section 25 of The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 provides a statutory framework of the factors which are relevant to how matrimonial assets are divided up on divorce. The paramount consideration is the welfare of any child of the family under the age of 18. In this case, Mr and Mrs Bezos have four children. Consideration will be given first and foremost to providing accommodation for the primary carer and children. In practice, this means that the appropriate outcome will be one which balances the financial needs of each parent, whilst at the same time making appropriate arrangements for the children’s financial needs.
After a long marriage, it is often most appropriate to share the assets equally. The court will consider which are “matrimonial” assets and which are “non-matrimonial” assets. ”Non-matrimonial" assets are assets built up prior to or subsequent to the breakdown of the marriage, or assets acquired through an independent source. These assets may not be shared between the two parties save to achieve a fair outcome. For example:
In this case, Amazon could be considered a matrimonial asset and therefore one to be divided between the parties.
Whether it has been personal choice or more of a foregone conclusion, we often see that women have scaled back their ambitions and lowered their earning potential in order to raise a family and support their husband’s career. The court will treat each spouse’s contribution to the marriage as equal, whether that is remaining in the home and looking after the children or going out to work. Which spouse has earnt more money is not hugely important.
Ultimately, the courts retain a wide discretion to treat each case differently depending on the facts, so it is impossible to predict the exact outcome of any given financial split. The best approach is for couples to try their best to come to their own agreement, without the involvement of the courts, if at all possible.
At Myerson, we work extensively for business owners or their spouses in arranging the valuation of business assets to determine liquidity or to determine the extent to which a party can provide income to meet future maintenance payments.
The family team also has significant experience of working for those whose assets comprise commercial and residential property portfolios or inherited wealth. Our family lawyers work closely with other in-house private client, commercial property and corporate lawyers to make sure that you receive a bespoke service to protect your interests in the event of a family breakdown.