Lessons from the Bill and Melinda Gates Divorce
In early May, Bill and Melinda Gates announced that they were getting divorced. The billionaire couple has been married for 27 years, have three adult children, and operate the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. According to reports, plans for the split have been underway since 2019. The public announcement marks the beginning of the next stage of their divorce process. Although it's not entirely possible to know everything that led to the end of this long-term marriage, some lessons can be learned from the Bill and Melinda Gates divorce.
The Separation Agreement
When it was made public that Melinda Gates had filed for divorce, the pair had already had a separation contract in place. In Washington state, where Mrs. Gates filed, couples can enter into this type of agreement to promote “the amicable settlement of disputes" that are the subject of the divorce. According to a recent report, the Gates separation contract is a legally binding agreement that will remain unchanged unless the court finds it was not fair to one party when it was executed.
In Wisconsin, couples can file for a legal separation. Separation allows the court to formally determine divorce-related issues without terminating the marriage. Similar to divorce, a separating couple can enter into a separation agreement, or a court can decide issues related to property division, child custody, child placement, spousal and child support, as well as other matters.
Couples may choose to legally separate rather than divorce for a variety of reasons. For instance, one partner may need to remain on the other's health insurance. They may also decide to separate rather than divorce for religious reasons. Other couples may want to take a break from the marriage without ending the relationship. If a legally separated couple later decides to proceed with the divorce, most if not all of their issues will have already been legally determined. When couples take the time to develop a comprehensive separation agreement, they can arrange their lives and assets in a way that works for their circumstances.
Refraining from Making Negative Comments
Since news broke about Melinda Gates filing for divorce, multiple news stories have come out speculating about the reasons for the end of the marriage. Some news sources report that Bill Gates had an affair. Others state that the split may have been partly attributable to his past connection to deceased convicted sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. Despite these stories, neither Bill nor Melinda have publicly commented about the specific reasons for the divorce. Instead, the couple has requested privacy for their family.
When you go through a divorce, private details about your life become part of a public legal process. While you can't control the court’s recordkeeping, you do have some say in how much you tell others about the details of the divorce. Going on social media and making statements about your ex or the divorce during the case seldom results in a positive outcome. Not only can these statements be used against the commenting party, but they can also add negativity to an already difficult process. These types of remarks often interfere with the parties’ ability to settle their issues and move on with their lives. Additionally, disparaging your former spouse in the presence of your kids is harmful to them.
When you comment about your divorce publicly, you run the risk of making statements that can hurt your case and your relationships with your kids and other loved ones. The court of public opinion is always available. However, those going through a divorce usually benefit from keeping divorce details to themselves.
The Gray Divorce
The Gates are divorcing after a long-term marriage and at a stage of life when many people have grown children and are considering retirement. Melinda Gates, age 56, filed for divorce from Bill, age 65, after the couple’s youngest child turned 18. The Gates have a unique set of circumstances in that they will divide a multibillion-dollar fortune and are unlikely to encounter financial concerns. However, for the non-billionaire set, divorce later in life or "gray divorce" can present certain fiscal challenges. Most people going through a divorce at this age will have to consider how to manage their expenses with half the resources they once owned. There may also be questions about insurance, retirement, employment, housing, long-term care, and spousal maintenance.
Operating the Family Business
When the Gates announced that they were divorcing, the couple said that they intend to continue working together at their foundation. Maintaining a business or other shared interests post-divorce can be complicated. Often divorcing couples who own a business find ways to divide their property, or one party buys the other out. There are various options for dividing your interests in a family business. If you are going through a divorce and have a business with your spouse, it would be best to review your situation with a qualified family law attorney.
Attorney and Mediator Karyn Youso of First Look Family Law has extensive experience helping clients understand their options regarding Wisconsin divorce and can help you evaluate your circumstances. Contact us today and let us take a "first look" at your situation.