Wealth

The Gates Divorce: What Happens Now?

Here’s everything we know so far about the Gates Divorce
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Bill and Melinda Gates shook the world earlier today with the announcement of their impending divorce. The Gates divorce, which will split the couple’s $130.5 billion fortune, will be the second biggest divorce in history after Mackenzie Scott split with her ex-husband, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, in 2019.

Here’s everything we know so far about the Gates Divorce.

Why are they divorcing?

The Gates’ announced their separation on social media, saying “we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives.” The announcement came as a shock to most as the couple has been married for over 27 years and were the united force behind The Giving Pledge, a commitment among billionaires to donate most of their wealth.

Up until this point, Melinda has been vocal about the struggles in their marriage. In an interview with The Sunday Times, she said, “Believe me, I can remember some days that were so incredibly hard in our marriage where you thought, ‘Can I do this?’”

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In her memoir The Moment of Lift, Melinda wrote about the challenges of being the wife of a famous figure and finding the balance between work and family. She cited the Gates Foundation as helping improve their relationship: "He's had to learn how to be an equal, and I've had to learn how to step up and be an equal.”

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However, in court documents obtained by various publications, Melinda described their marriage as “irretrievably broken.”

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What will happen to their wealth?

According to the petition for divorce document, Melinda and Bill Gates did not sign a prenuptial agreement at the time of their marriage in 1994 when Bill was already a billionaire. However, the document does refer to a “separation contract,” which is an agreement to divide up their lives, which includes their properties, assets, debts, and child custody. As their youngest child recently turned 18, the separation contract will only deal with the couple’s $130 billion fortune. 

Since a separation contract has already been signed, it’s unlikely that the couple will end up bringing their divorce to court in a messy divorce trial. As expected from high profile personalities, the couple will likely divorce quietly without fanfare, despite media coverage.

The couple will divide their impressive real estate portfolio, which includes the $125 million family estate in Washington state, a $43 million home in California, and a $27 million horse ranch in Florida. Not to mention the Gates’ $40 million private airplane, a luxury car collection, properties around the world, and the couple’s priceless collection of art. In 1994, Gates famously purchased a 16th century manuscript by Leonardo da Vinci for $30 million. The couple also owned a Winslow Homer painting worth $36 million.

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But this is all a drop in the ocean compared to the Gates’ $130 billion net worth. As it is, the Gates boast one of the largest family fortunes in America, with Bill Gates currently the fourth richest man in the world. Should the divorce divide his assets equally between the two, Gates could dive to 17th place on the Forbes rich list.

While wealth watchers might dramatize his supposed “fall from wealth,” it’s not like the couple will care. They’ve publicly stated that “it’s unfair” to hoard such wealth. Bill and Melinda Gates long ago swore to donate most of their wealth before they die, and set up The Gates Foundation to fulfill this promise.

What will happen to The Gates Foundation?

While Microsoft is Bill’s creation, the Gates Foundation belongs to the couple as a unit. Founded in 2000 in Seattle, the foundation promises to donate majority of the couple’s wealth. Between 1994 and 2018, Melinda and Bill donated over $36 billion to the foundation, and recently granted $1.75 billion to COVID-19 vaccine initiatives around the world.

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The Gates Foundation is currently the world’s leading philanthropic foundation, donating billions to research and development in education and global public health. Bill and Melinda currently lead the foundation together and co-chairs and trustees, alongside longtime friend and billionaire Warren Buffett.

According to the foundation’s statement, the couple will continue their work at the Gates Foundation, so that sets aside any rumors that their joint project will be shutting down. While they might have filed for divorce, it’s clear we’ll still be seeing the couple side-by-side in the future.

Scratch that, ex-couple.

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Anri Ichimura
Section Editor, Esquire Philippines
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