Disclaimer: The below is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.
When a couple files for divorce, one of the first and foremost issues they’ll need to address is how to split up their assets. This question becomes a lot more complicated when you and your spouse are the richest couple in the world.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his wife Mackenzie recently announced their pending divorce after 25 years of marriage. Bezos’ estimated net worth is around $137 billion — and according to the community property laws in their home state of Washington, his soon-to-be ex-wife is legally entitled to half of it.
For the Bezoses, their community property would be considered anything that was acquired during the course of the marriage, including each spouse’s earnings from all sources, and any property obtained using those earnings or community funds. While all of this marital property is generally split down the middle in a divorce, Washington State also considers the length of the marriage, what separate property each spouse had entering the marriage, and each spouse’s current economic circumstances when deciding how to divide assets.
When Multi-Billionaires Divorce
Divorce law is complicated, and it becomes even more so with high net-worth couples like the Bezoses. Because Jeff Bezos accumulated the vast majority of his wealth through Amazon — which was founded after the couple’s 1993 marriage — Mackenzie could in fact walk away with half of Jeff’s fortune.
This could have major implications for Amazon investors: Jeff owns 16 percent stock in his e-commerce enterprise, making him the current majority shareholders. If this is split equally between the couple, Mackenzie could choose to sell her shares, or she could push for a seat on the board and enact massive strategic changes for the company.
Of course, it’s also possible that the Bezoses signed a private agreement in which they agreed to their own terms of how they would divide their massive wealth. In this case, their agreement would supersede Washington’s community property laws.
Are Divorce Details Part of the Public Record?
Court proceedings, including divorce cases, are generally a matter of public record. Although laws about open court records vary from state to state, a public records search or access request often yields at least some information about a couple’s divorce case. For instance, you may be able to view how much money each party received and the specific reasons for their divorce — including potentially embarrassing personal circumstances that were detailed to the judge.
Divorce records can only be sealed by request, and the judge will typically seal or redact just enough information to protect the privacy of the couple who made the request. For example, information like social security numbers, bank accounts, proprietary business information may be redacted, but the rest of the court proceedings remain on record. In cases of families that wish to protect their minor children’s identities, or in cases of domestic abuse, larger portions of the records or even entire documents may be sealed.
Couples who choose to settle their affairs out of court through a mediator or arbitrator may submit a confidential settlement agreement to the judge. In these cases, the agreement itself is not necessarily reviewed by a judge and is simply incorporated into their final order of divorce. Therefore, only the fact that the divorce occurred — and not any of the nitty gritty details — is part of the public record.
While the outcome of the Bezoses’ divorce remains to be seen, one thing is certain: The couple has a long road ahead of them in dividing up the Amazon empire.