No prenup? No problem: How Bill and Melinda Gates will split their huge fortune

No prenup? No problem: How Bill and Melinda Gates will split their huge fortune

Bill and Melinda Gates are divorcing, and like most billionaire couples who get a divorce, theirs will dominate headlines for a couple of weeks or so. That’s unfortunate but inevitable, as they are both public figures. However, it won’t be because the public is luridly curious about their private lives. For the most part, it’ll be because of the couple’s immense fortune and powerful foundation.

Melinda Gates filed for a dissolution of marriage in Washington state, a no-fault state. What’s particularly noteworthy about their divorce, however, is that they don’t have a prenup, which must spell doom for Bill Gates, the wealthier of the two.

Bill and Melinda Gates’ divorce, by the numbers

4th – Bill Gates is currently the fourth richest man in the world
$130,000,000,000 – Mr. Gates’ net worth as of 2021
$2,500,000,000 – Mrs. Gates’ net worth as of 2021
1987 – Year they met at Microsoft and started dating
1994 – Year they got married
3 – Number of children they have (Jennifer, 25; Rory, 21; and Phoebe, 18)
27 – Years they’ve been together
0 – Number of prenuptial agreements they’ve signed

The couple has been together for 27 years and has accumulated a not inconsiderable amount of wealth together. Their combined properties include an art collection, luxury cars, a private jet, and several houses in California, Florida, Massachusetts, Wyoming, and Washington state.

Their main house in Washington, valued at $130 million, is a 66,000-square-foot mansion. It has seven bedrooms, around 18 bathrooms, an art deco cinema, a dining hall the size of a house, an indoor-outdoor pool that’s bigger than SeaWorld, a trampoline room bigger than most gyms, and countless windows. In other words, the Gates’ mansion looks like the dream home of a software developer who had some success in the IT industry.

Although it is a very nice house, the exes are certainly not looking to share it post-split. Mrs. Gates has reportedly been mulling over a divorce since at least 2019. She is allegedly setting her sights on a smaller home, perhaps a bungalow with only six bedrooms, 16 bathrooms, and fewer Microsoft-powered servants.

It would seem like a no-brainer that as among the world’s wealthiest couples, the two would have thought to sign a prenup to protect their respective assets. But they did not.

Separation contract: Empowering divorcing couples

Not having a prenup doesn’t mean that dividing their assets is going to be a long, tedious process that may eventually result in a protracted divorce. In place of a prenup, they have a separation contract, which is almost as good as a prenuptial agreement.

A separation contract or separation agreement is similar to a prenup in that it also contains all the details regarding a couple’s spousal support and child custody. This is why despite the lack of a prenup, it’s unlikely that there will be a custody battle similar to that of Brangelina’s (for one, their youngest child is 18). Mrs. Gates reportedly won’t even ask for alimony or child support.

The Gates’ separation agreement will help prevent them from experiencing conflicts when discussing marital assets and the divorce from going to trial.

That said, dividing up their fortune will be difficult as most of Mr. Gates’ wealth is tied to their charitable foundation. Moreover, he has a holding company with interests in energy, hospitality, and real estate. Don’t forget, he also has a tiny stake in Microsoft and other investments. The Gateses’ lawyers are going to be spending countless hours looking at Excel spreadsheets.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation no more?

The former couple is not only known for their considerable contribution to the fields of technology and business, but also their philanthropic pursuits. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation currently has over $51 billion in assets to date and has great influence in global health and early childhood education, among many other causes.

The foundation’s employees, however, were concerned that the couple’s divorce would impact the organization. As it appears, the foundation’s staff and trustees’ worries are largely unfounded.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation won’t be significantly affected, as the former couple has always had separate areas of focus. Mr. Gates, for instance, dedicates attention on clean energy projects, while Mrs. Gates focuses on advocacies and projects involving women’s issues. At this juncture, if the staff of the foundation have any concerns, it should be whether the foundation will keep its name once the divorce is finalized.

It wouldn’t be far-fetched to think of the Gateses as celebrity influencers. But what separates them from other high-profile couples is that even as they’re going through a private family matter, they are way more involved in their respective philanthropic endeavors. Interest in their separation is arguably mostly hinged on their massive charitable contributions to the world of technology and public health, as well as many other social and cultural causes. The same cannot be said of wealthy exes like Kanye West and Kim Kardashian or Jeff Bezos and Mackenzie Scott.

Buckingham, LaGrandeur, & Williams are family law attorneys in the Evergreen State. Call our offices in Renton for advice on all things divorce — 425-448-4740.