How these wives’ investment in their marriage paid off big time

How these wives’ investment in their marriage paid off big time

Every marriage comes with its share of risks and rewards — like most long-term investments such as bonds and pension funds. And if you’re not taking care of your investments, you might find yourself losing big.

Speaking of investments, one thing that’s worth investing in is your spouse’s happiness. Ever heard of the adage “happy wife, happy life”? Well, this nugget of marital wisdom might have been recently updated to “savvy wife, savvy life,” especially in light of certain high-stakes divorce settlements.

For better or for worse (but preferably only for better)

Case in point: the $1 billion settlement Korean tycoon Chey Tae-won, chairman of SK Group (one of South Korea’s largest conglomerates) paid his ex-wife.

After Chey admitted he had a child out of wedlock, his 34-year marriage to his wife Roh Soh-yeong fell apart. Chey's ex demanded 300 million won in alimony and half of Chey’s stake (around 1 trillion won) at SK Group’s holding company, but a lower court reduced the awarded amount.

In May 2024, the Seoul High Court reversed the lower court’s ruling and awarded Ms. Roh 1.38 trillion won (about $1 billion) in a property division settlement and 2 billion won (about $145,296) in alimony.

The court decided “it was reasonable to rule that, as his wife, Roh played a role in increasing the value of SK Group and Chey's business activity.” The implication here is that Chey’s marriage to the daughter of a former South Korean president ensured SK Group got preferential treatment. Also, Roh is no mere socialite; she is the director of the Art Center Nabi and plays a significant role in the cultural landscape of South Korea. One could say she brought a significant amount of sociocultural capital to the partnership.

Marriage is for better or for worse. In the case of the Korean couple, divorce turned out to be better for Roh and worse for Chey.

Check before cashing the check

The 2015 divorce of Sue Ann Arnall and Harold Hamm, oil tycoon and CEO of Continental Resources, resulted in one of the largest settlements in US history. When their 26-year marriage ended, the court ordered Hamm (whose net worth is around $18 billion) to pay Arnall around $1 billion. He wrote her a $974,790,317.77 check.

The couple did not have a prenup.

Arnall initially contested the $975 million check she received, claiming it was insufficient given that the value of Continental increased when she worked there as an executive. Hamm’s lawyers countered that much of his fortunes were gained through “passive” means.

However, with a drop in oil prices and a 34% decline in the shares of Continental Resources at the time, Arnall decided to cash the check. Clearly, she immediately recognized the slippery road to an even heftier payout, compelling her to act fast.

Friends with (billions of) benefits

The marriage of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Scott was not just a romantic alliance but also a partnership that laid the groundwork for one of the world’s largest eCommerce empires.

Twenty-five years later, they divorced; their January 2019 statement said, “After a long period of loving exploration and trial separation, we have decided to divorce and continue our shared lives as friends.” Reports surfaced that Bezos cheated on his wife. Despite the tabloid revelations, the two continued to express support and respect for one another.

They also did not have a prenup.

Scott received 25% of Bezos’ stake in Amazon, worth approximately $35 billion. She became a prominent philanthropist; even Melinda Gates said she had “huge respect” for Scott’s philanthropy.

A messy divorce can harm a high-profile couple, especially when the two share businesses, charities, and children. It pays to portray themselves as friends even if they aren’t.

Related reading: When it comes to the prenuptial agreements of the ultra-rich, there’s no such thing as “too much information”

Marriage = merger

What can we glean from these high-profile divorces? First, marriage for billionaires isn’t just about love; it’s a merger of minds, hearts, and hefty bank accounts.

Second, for spouses who feel overshadowed by their more public partners, these cases serve as a powerful reminder of their worth and contributions. The dynamics of marital partnerships are intricate, and the settlements recognize the supportive roles spouses play in their partner’s success, whether through managing households, nurturing networks, or even contributing to business decisions.

Third, get a prenup — especially if you’re a high-net-worth individual.

While we don’t advocate entering into a marriage for the potential payout, choosing the right spouse — whether for love, companionship, or business partnership — is perhaps one of the most significant investments one can make. As these high-profile divorces show, the returns can be life-changing.

If you’re getting married or divorced, you better have a legal expert beside you. At LaGrandeur & Williams, we’ll ensure your fair share in a prenup or a settlement. Contact us today for family law and other legal services in Washington State.