Melinda and Bill Gates divorce; Microsoft founder wealth of $130 billion to be split as couple with no prenuptial agreement separate. But what went wrong in their marriage?
Ironically what brought them together; the love of problem solving, pursuit of excellence, all consuming commitment to life and work’s challenges, larger than life persona’s, were the very same things that tore at the seams of their marriage …
Melinda Gates, the wife of the fourth richest man in the world has reportedly filed divorce from the founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, estimated to be worth $130 Billion. The couple who have been married for 27 years have no prenuptial agreement to guide the separation of their vast combined wealth.
In her divorce petition, Melinda, 56, cited her marriage to Bill Gates, 65, as ‘irretrievably broken’. The couple jointly announced their split after first tying the knot in 1994 via twitter on Monday.
Court documents showed the couple do not have a prenuptial agreement to help them navigate dividing their wealth – which includes properties in five states, a private jet, a massive art collection and a fleet of luxury cars.
The documents, which were filed by Melinda, came to light after the couple’s eldest daughter revealed their family has been going through a ‘challenging stretch of time’.
Deliberated over marriage. Deliberated over divorce: considering as always the pros and cons
Jennifer Gates, 25, spoke out about the divorce announcement on Instagram on Monday afternoon, posting: ‘I’m still learning how to best support my own process and emotions as well as my family members at this time and am grateful for the space to do so.’
Jennifer is the oldest of Bill and Melinda’s three children, followed by 21-year-old son Rory and 18-year-old daughter Phoebe.
Bill and Melinda both posted the same joint statement about their divorce on Twitter, which read: ‘After a great deal of thought and a lot of work, we have made the decision to end our marriage.
‘Over the last 27 years, we have raised three incredible children and built a foundation that works all over the world to enable all people to lead healthy, productive lives. We continue to share a belief in that mission and will continue to work together at the foundation, but we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives. We ask for space and privacy for our family as we begin to navigate this new life.’
The announcement comes less than two weeks after they made their last public appearance, virtually, at a COVID event for healthcare workers according to the dailymail.
Bill was already a billionaire when he married Melinda in the early 1990s. He founded Microsoft in 1975 and became the world’s youngest billionaire in 1987 at the age of 31. He also met Melinda that year when she was working at the company where he served as CEO.
They married six years later but he deliberated over it and, according to previous interviews given by Melinda, even made a list of pros and cons for marriage on a whiteboard.
Reason behind marriage ending?
The reason behind their split after over a quarter-century remains a mystery but Melinda has previously suggested her husband had trouble balancing work and family.
In the divorce petition, which was filed in Superior Court of Washington – King County on Monday, Melinda asked the judge to dissolved the marriage ‘on the date stated in our separation contract’. The separation contract was not included in the filing so that date is unclear.
Melinda did not ask for any spousal support but requested a trial date in April 2022. However it is likely the divorce will be settled without a trial.
The Gates’ divorce, though one of the most expensive in history, is not the most expensive.
That title goes to Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder who split his $150billion fortune with his wife MacKenzie in 2019 after his affair with Lauren Sanchez was revealed.
They, unlike Bezos, are both part of The Giving Pledge – a collection of the world’s richest people who have all vowed to devote at least half of their fortunes to charity.
In 2000 they founded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – the most influential private foundation in the worth with an endowment work nearly $50billion.
Over the last year the foundation has focused on the development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines around the world.
As of December, the foundation had committed a total of $1.75billion to the global pandemic response.
In their statement on Monday, the Gates vowed to continue that work together after their split.
The couple met in 1987 when Melinda was working at Microsoft as a project manager and was seated next to Gates at a business dinner.
Melinda described the meeting in her 2019 biography The Moment of Lift, writing: ‘I showed up late, and all the tables were filled except one, which still had two empty chairs side by side. I sat in one of them. A few minutes later, Bill arrived and sat in the other.’
After a year of dating, Bill made a list of the pros and cons of getting married.
‘You know, we cared a lot for each other and there were only two possibilities: either, we were going to break up or we were going to get married,’ Bill said in a Netflix documentary about his life.
In 2019, shortly after their 25th wedding anniversary, Melinda gave an interview to The Sunday Times in which she revealed how Bill struggled to balance work with family.
A mirror to each other
‘We’ve just gotten to a point in life where Bill and I can both laugh about more things.
‘And, believe me, I can remember some days that were so incredibly hard in our marriage where you thought, “Can I do this?”‘ she said.
In her memoir published that same year Melinda wrote about her private struggles as the wife of a public icon and stay-at-home mom with three kids.
Bill founded Microsoft in 1975 with Paul Allen. He served as CEO until 2000 then moved into a director role while gradually scaling back his involvement to dedicate more time to philanthropy.
He transitioned out of a day-to-day role in Microsoft in 2008 and served as chairman of the board until 2014. Last year he stepped down from the board of Microsoft entirely, as well as the board of Berkshire Hathaway.
Melinda – the daughter of an aerospace engineer and a housewife – was born Melinda Ann French in Dallas, Texas, in 1964 and attended the elite Duke University in North Carolina before joining Microsoft in 1987.
Bill also grew up privileged in Seattle, where he was born in 1955. His father was a prominent lawyer and his mother was on the board of the financial holding companies. He dropped out of Harvard to pursue Microsoft in the 1970s.
The couple welcomed their first child together, Jennifer, in 1996, followed by son Rory in 1999 and Phoebe in 2002.
Bill and Melinda Gates’ divorce will be the largest division of assets since Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie split in mid 2019.
Bill Gates won’t see your jokes about his divorce but Melinda will. Just one of the many reasons they got a divorce.
— Branson 🦢 Reese (@bransonreese) May 3, 2021
Dizzy ascent into public consciousness
The Gates are worth an estimated $130 billion, making them the fourth-richest people in the world, behind Bezos, Elon Musk, and French luxury goods owner Bernard Arnault.
Their wealth includes several impressive real estate holdings, including their main home in Washington state and properties in California, Florida, Wyoming and Massachusetts.
In addition, they have a private jet and an astonishing art collection. He also owns a fleet of fast cars.
Bill owns 1.37 percent of Microsoft’s outstanding shares, which are worth more than $26 billion, according to CNBC.
He stepped down from the board of Microsoft in March 2020, but remains as a technology adviser to CEO Satya Nadella.
He also makes investments through his Gates Ventures private office.
In 2015, Melinda established a new organization called Pivotal Ventures, an independent executive office. The idea was to allow her to pursue ideas that might not fit within the structure of the Gates Foundation.
In 2000, the couple founded The Gates Foundation, dedicated to helping some of the world’s poorest people through initiatives such as eradicating polio, reducing the spread of malaria and HIV/Aids, and investing in sanitation and financial systems for those without.
They have poured huge amounts of their own money into the Foundation, making it one of the world’s largest philanthropic organizations. From 1994 through 2018, the couple gave the foundation more than $36 billion.
In 2010 they founded The Giving Pledge, alongside Warren Buffett, and promised to give away the majority of their fortune.
Yet, despite their The Giving Pledge and their namesake foundation, the Gates retain plenty of assets which will need to be split between them.
For Bill, it was never a question of whether or not he wanted to be with Melinda, but more a question of whether he was actually capable of becoming a husband, while also remaining focused on building his tech empire.
He had to make a decision, even if the idea of marriage theoretically appealed
‘[He] wanted to be married, but he didn’t know whether he could actually commit to it and [still run] Microsoft,’ Melinda explained in the Netflix documentary. ‘He had to make a decision…’
Referring back to the problem-solving skills that had first sparked his interest in Melinda, Bill decided to pursue the most logical solution to that question – by completing a pros and cons list, laying out all of the negative and positive aspects of a potential marriage on a whiteboard in his bedroom, which Melinda actually caught him filling in.
Although neither have divulged the exact specifics of Bill’s list, it seems the pros outweighed the cons, and they got engaged soon after – although they didn’t actually tie the knot until several years later, in a beautiful ceremony held in Lanai, Hawaii.
Even during the wedding, Bill’s logical side took over, with Melinda recalling on Instagram when marking their 25th anniversary how he ‘did some astonishingly quick math to calculate’ how they should cut the cake so that all of their guests got the same size slice.
The work life at home challenge apparently always existed between the high powered couple. What brought them together ironically would one day tear them apart.
‘In 1995, after Bill and I had been married nearly two years and were about to leave on a trip to China, I discovered I was pregnant,’ Melinda wrote in her autobiography book. ‘This China trip was a huge deal for us. Bill rarely took time off from Microsoft, and we were going with other couples as well.
Idyllic on the outside with the trappings of wealth but slowly tearing at the seams from the inside
‘I didn’t want to mess up the trip, so I considered not telling Bill I was pregnant until we came back. For a day and a half, I thought, I’ll just save the news. Then I realized: “No, I’ve got to tell him because what if something goes wrong? And, more basically, I’ve got to tell him because it’s his baby, too.”
Over the next decade, the couple welcomed two more children; their son Rory, now 21, followed by a second daughter Phoebe, now 18.
Although Melinda did not return to work at Microsoft, the couple did put their heads together professionally again in 2000, when they set up their non-profit, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is now said to be the largest private foundation in the world.
The focus of the foundation is to improve healthcare, increase education, and tackle poverty across the globe.
While the high profile couple’s relationship might have seemed idyllic on the surface – courtesy of the couple’s sprawling homes, lavish vacations, and many public charitable endeavors – behind the scenes, Melinda admits that they had to work incredibly hard to make their marriage work, and to ensure that their extravagant wealth didn’t negatively impact their children.
Shortly after giving birth to Jennifer, Melinda says she felt incredibly ‘alone’ because her husband was spending so much of his time working, leaving her to take on the majority of the parenting duties by herself, and she admits she questioned whether he was actually invested in fatherhood.
‘When we first had Jenn, I felt very alone in our marriage,’ she explained in her book. ‘Bill was CEO of Microsoft at the time. He was beyond busy; everyone wanted him, and I was thinking, “OK, maybe he wanted to have kids in theory, but not in reality.”‘
Over the years, the couple worked together to carve out ‘equal’ roles – and to turn their marriage into a ‘partnership’, that saw them both taking on their fair share of childcare, including Bill offering to drive their daughter Jennifer to school several days a week, because it meant spending more than two hours in the car every day.