It’s shaping up to be the world’s most expensive divorce — and drop the most wealthy person on the planet down to the fourth richest.
Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos and his wife of 25 years, MacKenzie, announced Wednesday that they’re divorcing. The split could have a drastic impact on the fortune of Bezos, who’s currently ranked the richest person in the world with a net worth of $137 billion, according to Forbes’ rankings in real time.
There’s no word on whether the couple has a prenuptial agreement, but they live in Washington, which is one of just nine community property states, meaning that most property acquired during a marriage in these areas is considered owned by both spouses and would be divided nearly evenly in a divorce.
That could translate to the Amazon chairman falling to the fourth richest person in the world, assuming his fortune is halved from $137 billion to $68 billion. Currently trailing behind Bezos are Microsoft founder Bill Gates, with $94 billion, business magnate Warren Buffett, with $80 billion, French business mogul Bernard Arnault, with $70 billion and Mexican business tycoon Carlos Slim Helu, with $62 billion.
“Unless the Bezos had a prenuptual or postnuptial agreement, which controlled their property division, Washington’s community property law will be in effect,” Boaz Weintraub, a Seattle-based family law attorney, told the Daily News. “And I understand that Amazon was started after the couple got married, so it will be presumed to be community property, entitling his wife to at least a 50 percent interest under Washington community property law.”
Weintraub adds that Bezos’ fortune could potentially be halved.
“With regard to the effect on his net worth, unless there is a prenuptual or a postnuptial in place, I don’t see how his net worth is not significantly impacted by a divorce just based solely on Washington community property law.”
Laurie Robertson, an attorney at the Washington Family Law Group, pointed out that the courts will factor in details like the length of the marriage and the lifestyle of the parties during the marriage.
“Here, you have a 25-year marriage, so that’s pretty significant as far as the court wanting to make sure that both parties…come out in fairly similar financial circumstances, that they both have assets and support after the divorce,” Robertson said.
Bezos and MacKenzie married in 1993 and Amazon was founded in July of 1994.
“If what he’s worth was acquired during the marriage, technically in the eyes of the court in Washington, it’s what they’re both worth,” Robertson said. “But it’s really a matter of the court coming in and looking at all of the assets in the marriage and dividing them. And it could be she gets more of other assets to offset things he’s keeping. It could be a long-term payout situation so that it doesn’t affect the long-term course of business and it doesn’t hurt the income.”
There’s also a chance the division of property won’t be handled in court at all.
“They’ll either negotiate it or they’re going to leave it up to the court to determine what that could look like,” Robertson said. “The court’s not going to want to do anything that would harm a business that is the main income flow. They may choose to keep it out of the courtroom and address all of these property issues through arbitration.”