When there’s this much money involved, divorce isn’t easy — especially if there’s no prenuptial agreement. The details of Bill Gates and Melinda Gates‘ divorce proceedings are under lock and key, but a top attorney tells HollywoodLife EXCLUSIVELY that Melinda could be walking away with a significant amount of money when all is said and done. There’s just a little math involved.
Washington, where Bill and Melinda live, is a considered a community property state. “What that means, essentially, is that any property acquired during the course of the marriage is subject to equitable division,” says prominent Seattle family lawyer Brent Bohan. But don’t get it wrong; equitable doesn’t necessarily mean that the Microsoft co-founder and his wife of 27 years will be splitting their assets 50/50 if there’s no prenup in place.
It’s all up to the courts, according to Bohan. “There’s certain situations where the court may determine, based on principles of equity, that one party should receive more property than the other party,” he explained. But since the public doesn’t know the terms of Bill and Melinda’s potential prenup (or postnup), “everything is just wide open, but it could be that anything that was acquired during the course of their marriage, including Microsoft, is subject to equitable division.”
But the parties involve might “disagree” on the definition of equitable. “Let’s, for example, say that [Bill’s] stake in Microsoft is I don’t know, $500 billion. Melinda is entitled to her share. But it may not be possible for them to divide the company 50/50 or even close to that, because it would mean that they’d have to sell off a large portion of their stake and no longer have a majority share,” Bohan said. “Because of that she may decide to say look, in order to maintain control he can keep $300 billion and I’ll take $200 billion. I think the problem is when you start talking about numbers this large equity kind of becomes something that’s really, really subjective.”
When it comes to a fortune of that size, divorce won’t be easy even if the split itself is amicable, as it seems to be per Bill and Melinda’s May 3 announcement. “Generally, it’s really difficult in these types of cases where you’re dealing with billions of dollars to determine what’s fair because everybody’s gonna walk away with more money than they could spend in 100 lifetimes,” Bohan said. “We kind of saw that in the Bezos case.”
“It is my understanding Jeff Bezos kept Amazon or he kept control of Amazon and [MacKenzie Scott, his ex-wife] walked with most of the cash,” he continued. “So, it could be that they structure some type of deal like that that allows him to be heavily involved in Microsoft while she walks away with a lot of properties.” He doesn’t believe Melinda will ask for spousal support, considering the settlement she’ll likely receive. “She walks away with billions and billions of dollars. There’s no need for him to continue to pay her money.”
Top Seattle divorce attorney Linda K. Ebberson agrees that Melinda likely won’t ask for spousal support. “Spousal support in Washington can be a lot less significant than asset allocation. So [Melinda] might waive a claim for spousal support in exchange for more assets,” she explained, adding that, “with Seattle laws it is possible that we’ll never know the details of the split. It’s quite possible that we’ll never know how the assets were actually divided between them. Bill and Melinda would have a much higher desire, if you will, to keep their financial information private.”