On Wednesday, January 9, Jeff Bezos — the world’s richest man, with an estimated net worth of around $150 billion — announced that he and his wife MacKenzie Bezos are divorcing after 25 years of marriage.
“We want to make people aware of a development in our lives” the couple wrote in a joint statement on Jeff’s Twitter page. “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 life 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 wed ad 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 Bezos (@JeffBezos) January 9, 2019
According to top New York divorce attorney Shireen Arani,* it is likely that Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos have already resolved the issues incident to their divorce prior to the Tweet, and a full settlement agreement may already have been executed, complete with iron-clad confidentiality provisions. So, we may never know exactly how the couple’s assets are divided. Arani says that there is “no doubt they’ve carefully negotiated and crafted the joint statement on Jeff’s Twitter page. This isn’t something one posts casually, on a whim.”
Washington State, where Amazon is based and where Jeff and MacKenzie maintain their primary residence, is a community property state, which means the couple should, at least theoretically, be dividing their assets 50/50. However, much of the couple’s wealth is tied up in Amazon stock. Jeff is currently the company’s largest shareholder, and he would lose his controlling interest were he required to immediately distribute half of his 16+ percent stake to MacKenzie. That could have a negative impact on the stock’s value – something that would impact both parties. According to Arani, the parties may therefore agree that certain transfers of Amazon stock occur over a period of time.
Even then, MacKenzie may not leave the marriage with exactly 50 percent of the couple’s assets. “In my practice, when you have assets of this magnitude, the non-titled party often doesn’t demand a valuation of every single piece of real estate and every single business interest. Neither party wants experts and attorneys turning over every stone and digging into their private and business affairs. It’s expensive, time-consuming and intrusive. Where there is this level of wealth, she may say, ‘look, this is enough for me.’”
Moreover, Arani says that even if the parties did not have a prenuptial agreement, they may very well have entered into a post nuptial agreement once Jeff accumulated wealth later in the marriage, governing how the assets would be distributed in the event of a divorce.
The fact that Mackenzie and Jeff have four children together — three biological sons and a daughter adopted from China — may not mean that Jeff will be paying millions of dollars in traditional basic child support to MacKenzie every month, assuming the children primarily live with her. Arani says that there may be a commitment on Jeff’s part to pay for major, big ticket expenses, even things that the law may not require once the children are emancipated, such as graduate school expenses, weddings, homes, and the like.
At the same time, Arani explains that Jeff may not have an alimony or spousal maintenance obligation because “the assets MacKenzie receives in the divorce will generate significant income, obviating her need to touch the principal to meet her expenses.”
*Shireen Arani is a Partner of Matrimonial Law at Katsky Korins LLP in New York City, specializing in cases involving high-net worth clients. Arani is a 2002 graduate of Boston University School of Law, where she served as Executive Editor of the Law Review, and a 1999 graduate of the University of Richmond.