Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, are divorcing after 25 years of marriage. The couple announced the divorce in a joint statement released on Bezos’s Twitter account on Wednesday morning.
Bezos, the wealthiest person in the world according to the Bloomberg Billionaire Index, is currently worth an estimated $137 billion. He founded Amazon shortly after marrying MacKenzie, whom he reportedly met while working at the New York City-based hedge fund D.E. Shaw. Shortly after, the couple moved to Seattle, where Bezos famously started Amazon from a garage. According to a 1996 Wall Street Journal profile, MacKenzie was at the wheel when they made the cross-country drive. According to the joint statement, the split was amicable, and they plan to “continue our shared lives as friends.”
That doesn’t mean the divorce won’t be costly. CNBC claims it could be the “most expensive” divorce in history, due in part to Washington state’s divorce laws. Washington is a “community property state,” meaning that any and all property (and debt) amassed over the course of a marriage is evenly divided by the court if the couple can’t negotiate an agreement.
In Bezos’s case, this could mean that MacKenzie is entitled to half his fortune, or $69 billion — but only if the pair can’t agree on a settlement on their own. This would make MacKenzie the world’s richest woman, but Bezos would no longer be the richest person in the world. That title would go back to Bill Gates, whose net worth is an estimated $92.5 billion.
As CNBC points out, a settlement of that size would require Bezos to sell some of his 80 million Amazon shares, which in turn would dilute his ownership and control of the company. According to Recode, dividing assets in this way would mean that Bezos would own 8.15 percent of the company, but he still would own more than the next-largest shareholder, Vanguard, which owned 5.8 percent of the company’s shares in 2017.
Bezos’s reduced stake in Amazon would also have symbolic meaning: He’s been the face of the company since its founding in 1996. Amazon’s origin story is intimately tied to Bezos, who claims he was tired of the hedge fund life and risked it all to pursue a passion project out West, where he built the world’s most valuable company from his garage.
In any case, CNBC claims a 50-50 split is unlikely, since reducing Bezos’s ownership of Amazon would ultimately impede both Bezos and MacKenzie from acquiring more wealth.
The settlement could also be contingent on whether the Bezoses signed a prenuptial agreement. Though they met and married before Amazon’s founding, both Jeff and MacKenzie were still working at a hedge fund at the time — their net worths weren’t anywhere near $137 billion then, but it’s possible they signed a prenup anyway.
If the statement announcing the divorce is any indication, agreeing on a settlement may not be an issue. “We’ve had such a great life together as a married couple,” the pair wrote, “and we also see wonderful futures ahead, as partners, friends, partners in ventures and projects, and as individuals pursuing ventures and adventures.”