Earlier today, Amazon Founder, Jeff Bezos, and his Wife, MacKenzie, issued a joint statement of their intent to divorce each other after 25 years of marriage. The most recent estimate is that Bezos’ net worth is somewhere around $137 billion dollars, give or take a few billion depending on the market.
The million (well billion) dollar question everyone is asking is how much will his Wife receive as part of the divorce? Like any case, the answer is never a simple one, especially in a case with such high income and assets as this one.
The first question, is there a prenuptial agreement or any prior agreement as to the division of assets. If there is such an agreement, then the parties are likely bound by the terms of that agreement. Though it is not uncommon for there to be challenges to a pre-nuptial agreement, the most common of which is unconscionability.
In Bezos’ matter it seem unlikely there was a pre-nuptial agreement as they married young and before his fortune. Further and more importantly Amazon was founded a year after the parties married so it is very unlikely the company was included in any pre-nuptial agreement. Washington State, is a community property state, which means the parties share in any assets they acquire during the marriage, which in theory could include half of Bezos’ 80 million shares of Amazon.
The issues only get more complex from there. Bezos currently owns 16% of Amazon’s shares, which is a controlling interest. If his Wife were to request half of his worth, $66.5 billion, Bezos would have to either sell or pledge shares, which would reduce his ownership and thus control in the company. Further, any sale of stock or loss of control by Bezos could severely impact investor’s confidence in the company. Something which could ultimately reduce both Bezos and his Wife’s interests in the company. It would seem unlikely his Wife would take such extreme action especially in light of what seems like an amicable split, at least from the looks of the joint statement.
What will ultimately happen in this case is yet to be decided, but with a case with such high income and assets the issue is ultimately how much is too much? Often these cases result in a large out of court settlement, often under seal from the public. For example the recent divorce of Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffery Laurie. On the other hand, there have been many recent cases that have been a lot uglier, for example casino tycoon, Steve Wynne, or former Dodger owner, Frank McCourt’s, divorce, the latter of which is believed to be the most expensive divorces in California history and ultimately led to the sale of the Dodgers. Either way this one will definitely be one to watch!
Kevin Falkenstein, Esq. is a shareholder and partner at Adinolfi, Molotsky, Burick & Falkenstein and focuses his practice on all aspects of divorce and family. The firm has the ability to represent clients throughout New Jersey regardless of the complexity of their matter. For more information, contact us at 856.428.8334.