They seemed to have it all. Money. Power. Success. A beautiful family. And, of course, a happy marriage. Yet, when news of the Bill and Melinda Gates divorce broke a few weeks ago, we suddenly saw the cracks in the illusion of their “perfect” lives.
In fairness to them, Bill and Melinda Gates never claimed to be perfect. But to those of us who haven’t created crazy-successful tech companies or amassed a multi-billion dollar fortune, Bill and Melinda’s lives seemed to be as close to perfect as anyone could want.
Now that they’re getting divorced, though, their lives aren’t looking quite as rosy as they once did. (Although plenty of people would probably be willing to go through a divorce if they could end up with even a fraction of the Gates’ $130+ billion combined net worth!)
Yet, it’s not the FACT that Bill and Melinda Gates are divorcing that’s so surprising. People get divorced every day.
What makes the Bill and Melinda Gates divorce so unique isn’t simply that their split is probably the biggest divorce in history. What makes it unique is that it seems relatively amicable EVEN THOUGH it’s the biggest divorce in history!
Which leads to the question … how are they doing it?
How are they managing to get divorced after 27 years of marriage WITHOUT fighting over their multi-billion dollar marital estate?
To know the answer to that question, you first have to look behind the media reports and understand a few important truths.
1. It Didn’t Have to Be This Way
While it’s tempting to believe that the only reason the Gates divorce is amicable is because Bill and Melinda have so much money, a 5 second Google search will show that’s not true.
Having a lot of money does NOT make getting divorced any easier. In fact, it often makes it harder.
For example, in 2018 real estate mogul Harry Macklowe divorced Linda Macklowe, his wife of 59 years, after battling in court for two years. Mr. Macklowe had reportedly been having an affair with Patricia Landau, whom he married shortly after his divorce was final.
In addition to the multi-million dollar properties, cars, jewelry, and other investments they had to divide, the Macklowes also owned an art collection valued at up to $1 billion. After taking their case all the way through appeal, a judge finally ruled that their art collection had to be sold so that the eighty-year-old ex-spouses could keep the lifestyle they had been living.
Another example is former stock trader and convicted felon Ivan Boesky’s divorce from Seema Boesky, his wife of 16 years.
Ivan and Seema Boesky finally reached a settlement after fighting in court for two years, the couple finally reached a settlement.
The list of other ugly billionaire divorces could go on for pages.
The bottom line is that, in the world of divorce, having money does not make your split more amicable. As a matter of fact, having a lot of money actually gives both spouses the resources they need to pay divorce lawyers to fight.
2. Billionaires are People Too
Divorce is driven by one thing: emotions.
That’s true whether you’re a billionaire or whether you’re broke.
While the trend today (at least publicly) is for the rich and famous to divorce and “remain friends,” that doesn’t mean that doing so is easy or painless.
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have been divorcing for four years now. While the media reports of their divorce have died down, that doesn’t mean that everything is bright and sunny between the former couple.
As a matter of fact, the California divorce court recently issued a ruling granting the couple tentative joint custody of their minor children. That ruling came after a months-long trial. And Jolie has said she will appeal, so the issue of custody is still up in the air.
Clearly, not all divorces among the uber-rich are friendly.
Even divorces that seem amicable on the surface still have to have a huge undercurrent of emotion running beneath them.
For example, the divorce between Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos was as publicly amicable as a divorce could be. Yet, there’s no way that either one of the spouses could have been unaffected when the National Enquirer released sleazy text messages that Jeff Bezos reportedly sent to his affair partner, former TV Anchor LaurenSanchez.
The same thing is true in the Bill and Melinda Gates divorce.
While there are those who still probably believe that Bill Gates is the Anti-Christ, as far as the rest of us know, both he and Melinda French Gates are very human.
They have emotions. Those emotions have to affect their divorce.
What separates divorces like the Bezos divorce and the Gates divorce from the divorces that get ugly can be summarized in one sentence:
They managed their divorce.
They DIDN’T let their divorce drive them.
The Benefits of a Well-Managed Divorce
Managing your divorce may sound like a strange concept. But that’s only because most people don’t do it.
Managing your divorce takes self-control, but it also gives you control. It saves you time and money, as well as heartache and embarrassment.
Managing your divorce well requires two things:
- A plan; and
- Your participation.
It sounds so simple. But most people don’t have a plan and would rather not participate in their divorce.
They decide they want a divorce, hire a divorce lawyer, and dive right in. They don’t take their time or plan ahead. And they usually don’t think things through carefully before they start.
All of that creates mistakes, missteps, and a lot of drama.
Without a plan, you have no direction. You have no idea where you're going or how you will get there.
Without your participation, your divorce goes in whatever direction your lawyer, your spouse, your spouse's lawyer, or the judge decides it will go. While that direction may end up being in your favor ... it may not. And if you're not taking an active part in your divorce, you can't stop that train until it stops.
Unfortunately, once the train stops you realize that you've been left in a place you don't really want to be.
That’s why actively managing your divorce is so important.
That’s also exactly what Bill and Melinda Gates have done.
5 Strategies from the Bill and Melinda Gates Divorce
It’s easy to write off the Gates divorce as being unique. It’s easy to think that the way that Bill and Melinda Gates are divorcing is different simply because their marital estate is so enormous. And, of course, the Gates divorce undoubtedly has complicated financial issues that won‘t exist for the average person.
But just because their divorce is bigger than most, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything the rest of us can learn from the way they’re handing the end of their marriage.
Here are 5 strategies that Bill and Melinda Gates probably used* in their divorce that will help you navigate your own situation much more effectively and efficiently.
1. They were Pro-Active …. i.e. They Planned Ahead.
The news of the Gates divorce was released on May 4, 2021. But their divorce had clearly been in the works for years before that.
How do I know?
By the time Bill and Melinda announced their divorce they already had a separation agreement worked out and written down.
There is absolutely no way that these two people were able to work out a complete separation agreement dividing their entire $130+ billion dollar estate overnight. Clearly, they had spent YEARS negotiating that settlement BEFORE they announced their divorce.
That makes sense.
While it’s impossible to know exactly how long the Gates divorce had been in the works before May of 2021, Melinda had reportedly been meeting with divorce lawyers since 2019.
Bill stepped down as a board member of Microsoft in 2020.
Whether the couple was already thinking about divorce in 2015 is anyone’s guess. What is clear though, is that the Bill and Melinda Gates divorce was not a random or spontaneous event.
That’s very different from so many other divorces.
Often, one spouse immediately runs into a lawyer’s office and files for divorce after a particularly heated argument, or after s/he finds out about an affair. While that might make sense on an emotional level, from a financial and legal standpoint, filing for a divorce without first taking the time to carefully plan the consequences can be very foolish.
2. They Put Together a Professional Divorce Team From the Start.
Both Bill and Melinda Gates are represented by a team of lawyers in their divorce.
Because of the size of their estate, their teams consist of multiple divorce lawyers in different firms and different states. They also have trust and estate lawyers and financial advisors.
While the media has been mum about whether either Bill or Melinda are working with therapists or divorce coaches, they would certainly be wise to have done so, too.
The bottom line is that, unlike so many people who are facing divorce, the Gates’ didn’t try to go it alone. They put together their divorce teams right from the start.
Of course, it’s easy to point out that Bill and Melinda Gates had the MONEY to put together a team. Most divorcing couples don’t have a ton of money to hire a huge divorce team.
But most divorcing couples don’t need a huge divorce team. They don’t need multiple divorce lawyers and trust lawyers. Their finances are much more simple.
Yet just because they don’t need a HUGE team, doesn’t mean that they don’t need ANY team.
Trying to go through a divorce alone, without professional help, is scary. It’s the reason so many people end up in a financial sink-hole or post-decree divorce court.
3. They Began with the End in Mind.
Bill and Melinda Gates are public figures. They have been involved in multiple companies and operate the largest private foundation in the world.
They have a LOT to lose by airing their dirty laundry in the media.
Presumably, they both know that. As a result, they’re both keeping their emotions in check and their divorce details to themselves.
While it’s tempting to believe that managing their emotions is easier for Bill and Melinda Gates because they have so much money, that’s probably not true.
Divorce is emotional for everyone. That’s especially true if infidelity has played a role in that divorce.
There have been numerous reports of Bill Gates’ inappropriate behavior and affairs, as well as his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. To think that those reports didn’t affect Melinda is naïve.
Melinda may be rich, but she’s not a robot!
Yet, to her credit, both she and Bill have mostly declined to comment on the divorce.
That runs in stark contrast to many divorces, when each spouse is only too happy to trash talk the other.
That happens in average divorces as well as in high net worth divorces. (Just think of the Kardashians!)
The bottom line is that both Bill and Melinda Gates had a LOT to lose if their divorce got ugly. So they used their heads, kept their end goal in mind, and kept their opinions about each other and their marriage to themselves.
4. They Did Things in the Right Order.
Divorce is a process. Things move in a particular progression. If you don’t do things in the proper order, you mess them up. You make mistakes.
For example, you can’t negotiate a settlement agreement until you first know what your assets and liabilities are. Otherwise, you’re negotiating blindly.
Similarly, you can’t start splitting things up until you’ve made a binding agreement about who gets what. Otherwise, one spouse may end up taking advantage of the other. Or, you may end up having to transfer assets multiple times (which costs time and money).
- In the Bill and Melinda Gates divorce, they’re taking the right steps in the right order.
- They reached a binding settlement agreement FIRST.
- They put that agreement in writing and made sure it was effective before they started splitting things up.
- After that, they started transferring assets in accordance with their agreement. Bill has already made $3 billion of transfers from his company, Cascade Investments, to Melinda.
In short, they’re going through their divorce step-by-step, one step at a time.
In many divorces, people get antsy. They want to put the cart before the horse.
So they start transferring property between themselves before they have an enforceable settlement agreement. They start dating someone new before they’re even divorced. They do all kinds of things that, in the end, make their divorce take longer and cost more.
In other words, they DON’T do what Bill and Melinda Gates are doing.
5. They Went for the Win/Win BUT They Also Didn’t Leave Any Loose Ends.
The biggest company that Bill and Melinda Gates operate is their charitable Foundation, which now has more than $65 billion in resources. While the Foundation is not a marital asset, both Bill and Melinda Gates are directors of that Foundation. They each have their own projects there. Most importantly the Foundation is both of their legacies.
Deciding what would happen with their Foundation HAD to be a huge bone of contention in their divorce.
It was also an issue that either one of them could have used to “stick it” to the other. They could have tried to cut each other out of the Foundation. They could have let a judge decide what happened to the Foundation. Or, they could have simply destroyed the foundation by fighting over it in their divorce.
Instead they agreed that they’re going to continue to run the Gates Foundation together for at least a 2 year “trial period.” If they find they can’t work together during that time, Bill will buy Melinda out with his personal resources.
What’s striking about their agreement is not just that they’re going to keep working together after their divorce (which may or may not turn out to be a good idea!). What’s striking is that they already provided a structure for what will happen if things DON’T work out the way they plan.
That’s very different from what happens in many divorces.
Couples can’t decide who gets the house, so they decide to just co-own it without talking about what happens if one of them misses a mortgage payment or CAN’T buy the other one out later on.
Leaving loose ends like that can create HUGE arguments later on. It’s another one of the reasons that post-decree divorce court is so busy.
How You Can Use The Gates’ Divorce Strategies in Your Divorce
You don’t have to be a multi-billionaire to divorce like Bill and Melinda Gates.
You can use the strategies they must have employed in their divorce to guide your own divorce.
All you have to do is:
- Be proactive;
- Put together a divorce team from the start;
- Begin with the end in mind;
- Do things in the right order; and
- Go for the Win/Win and still tie up your loose ends.
Doing all those things will help you manage your divorce. They will put you in charge.
Doing them will make sure that, as challenging as it may be, YOU are driving your divorce, rather than letting your divorce drive you.
*Disclaimer: I’m not a part of either Bill or Melinda’s divorce team, so I can’t tell you for sure what strategies either of them, or their lawyers, actually used. But as a divorce professional, and based upon the research I’ve done, it appears that they have used either these strategies, or strategies that are very similar to them.