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Bill and Melinda Gates Are Divorcing: What's Going to Happen?

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 26: Business people Melinda Gates (L) and Bill Gates speak on stage at the 2015 Global Citizen Festival to end extreme poverty by 2030 in Central Park on September 26, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Global Citizen)
By Andrew Leonatti on May 06, 2021

For the second time in two years, it has become really clear that even astronomical sums of money doesn't guarantee happiness and marital bliss.

Bill and Melinda Gates, one of the richest couples in the world, announced this week that they are divorcing, ending a 27-year marriage. While Bill stepped down from leading Microsoft years ago, the couple has used that fortune to build one of the largest charitable giving organizations in the world.

What may happen next to the couple, their fortune, and the beneficiaries of their foundation is anyone's guess.

Celebs: They're Just Like Us!

In her divorce filing in Washington state, where the couple lives, Melinda Gates stated that the couple's marriage was "irretrievably broken." This seems to indicate that, like the vast majority of American couples, the Gates' will pursue a no-fault divorce. That means neither spouse will need to prove a reason — such as infidelity or abandonment — for the court to grant the divorce.

In a joint statement, the couple said that they "no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives." (Okay, maybe celebs aren't just like us.)

The couple has three children, but none of them are under 18, so child custody and child support will not be an issue. Now, all that's left is for the Gates' to divide their money ... all that money.

What Happens to the Fortune and Foundation?

Bloomberg estimates the Gates' net worth at around $145 billion. They own several large properties, are the largest farmland owners in the U.S., and have countless investments.

They also don't have a prenuptial agreement. In her filing, Gates does state that the couple has a separation contract. The details of that agreement are unknown.

When Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Scott divorced two years ago, the settlement ended with Scott continuing to hold stock in Amazon worth tens of billions, even though she ceded all voting rights to her ex-husband.

While dividing the actual property could cause acrimony, the larger fight — if there is one — will likely be over how much money or stock Melinda Gates ultimately receives. A Bezos-like outcome could be possible.

In addition, Bill and Melinda are co-chairs of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a philanthropic organization with a $50 billion endowment. In the statement announcing their divorce, they said they would continue in their roles at the foundation.

But what if the divorce is less than amicable? Could the pair continue to function at the top together, even if they have shared values about causes their charity should support?

University of Pennsylvania professor Peter Frumkin, who researches philanthropy, said one of the two could decide to spin off their own charitable foundation, giving them more freedom.

And as a result of the division of the Gates family fortune, Melinda Gates will have the ability to give millions or billions to whatever causes she sees fit, much like MacKenzie Scott does now, regardless of what happens to the Gates Foundation.

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