Bill Gates and Melinda Gates knew that announcing their split after 27 years of marriage would send ripple effects throughout the global economy — and with that staggering power came serious responsibility to try and stave off fears about what the division of their massive fortune might mean for their continued contributions in philanthropy and business. As such, the Gates’ came to the table (rather, came to Twitter) with a divorce statement whose primary intention was to soothe, and that required already having a plan in place by the time the public was able to come up with any questions. SheKnows spoke with Leslie Barbara, Chair of the Divorce and Family Law Group Davidoff Hutcher & Citron LLP, about what we can infer from Melinda’s divorce petition filed in Washington state, as acquired by TMZ, and Barbara was confident that while the Gates’ split may be news to us, it certainly wasn’t a sudden turn of events for the couple.
Melinda’s divorce filing is largely opaque and frequently references a finished separation agreement drawn up between herself and estranged husband Bill Gates. The separation agreement itself, also known as a divorce settlement, is proof that this was not arrived on recently, says Barbara, whose experience in high-profile divorces includes clients like Michael Lohan, Molly Ringwald, and Bridget Moynahan.
“We are told that there is already a separation agreement. And that’s typical for celebrity high net worth divorces of this caliber,” Barbara tells us. “They negotiate terms first and then they announce. Bottom line is that this was brewing for a while before the public was let in on it.”
With a net worth of $129 billion, per Forbes, Bill Gates will have the world’s eyes on him as he proceeds with this divorce, as much as he may not want that publicity.
— Bill Gates (@BillGates) May 3, 2021
“After a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage,” their joint statement read. “Over the last 27 years, we have raised three incredible children and built a foundation that works all over the world to enable all people to lead healthy, productive lives. We continue to share a belief in that mission, and will continue our work together at the foundation, but no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives. We ask for space and privacy for our family as we begin to navigate this new life.”
Melinda’s filing states that the marriage with Bill is “irretrievably broken” and requests that all assets and debts be divided according to their pre-determined separation agreement — one that Barbara thinks is unlikely to prove any great financial shake-up for either party.
“I am not terribly worried about the impact of the divorce on [Bill Gates’] net worth ranking and I do not think he is either,” she said. “No one is going to suffer here on a financial front.”
May we suggest emblazoning that on a Gates family crest? In all seriousness, however, mere mortals have been known to suffer greatly due to the fees involved in divorce proceedings, and it’s always a relief when someone’s livelihood is not at stake. We suspect we’ll hear more of the story of what changed in their marriage as weeks and months go by, but for now we can say that the Gates’ have likely been working on the messaging and timing of this split for way longer than we realized.
Before you go, click here for all the celebrity splits and divorces we never saw coming.