When the richest man in the world files for divorce, it makes headlines. The news that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his wife of 25 years, MacKenzie Bezos, were parting ways has been trending since the announcement on January 9. The big question: how do you divide an empire worth $135 billion between two people?
Washington, like Arizona, is a community property state — any wealth or assets accumulated during a marriage (if no prenuptial agreement exists) are owned equally by the couple, each with a 50% interest. Since Amazon was founded after the Bezos’ marriage, and there’s likely no prenuptial agreement, a large portion of that $135 billion is fair game for MacKenzie Bezos. Some have speculated she could end up the world’s richest woman, worth $68 billion, half of Jeff Bezos’ fortune.
However, divorcing couples without prenuptial agreements or separate bank accounts must divide assets according to what is “just and equitable”. This doesn’t necessarily mean everything is divided 50/50. But we did say each spouse has a 50% interest in the marital estate under community property laws. So why isn’t the estate divided along those lines in divorce?
Because “equitable” doesn’t mean “equal”, it means “fairness”.
Instead of the world’s wealthiest couple, imagine an ordinary one. One spouse has a job outside the home, the other is a stay-at-home parent. In the divorce, a just and equitable split of their community property might provide more for the stay-at-home spouse because s/he won’t bounce back from the divorce as easily as the working spouse. Other factors include a spouse’s disability or health issues, potentially resulting in more assets awarded to provide balance.
In the case of Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos, “equitable” could actually mean as close to a 50/50 split of their wealth as is feasible. Both are successful in their careers and, since the split appears to be amicable despite infidelity allegations, settling on an even number could bring the proceedings to a quick conclusion. However, because Amazon was founded during the Bezos’ marriage, community property laws could apply to their shares in the company. This makes it possible for MacKenzie Bezos to end up with half of the shares in Amazon stock currently regarded as community property between her and her husband. That’s an 8% stake in the company, making her a major player in Amazon’s future.
As you can see, community property laws and equitable distribution can complicate a divorce. If you’re going through a divorce and want to know your rights, contact a divorce lawyer at Bellah Perez, PLLC today. We don’t care whether you’re the richest person in the world or not — we’ll fight for you in your divorce. Call (602) 252-9937.
Disclaimer: The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.