Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, recently had his divorce from his wife MacKenzie Bezos finalized, according to an article in The New York Times. The Bezos divorce is intriguing for many reasons. First, Jeff Bezos—currently the wealthiest man in the world, according to an article in BBC News—did not have a prenuptial agreement in place with his wife. As a result, she ended up getting 25 percent of his wealth, which equals approximately $36 billion. Given that the divorce is now finalized, we want to provide you with more information about all of the reasons that the divorce proceedings happened as they did.
Amazon CEO Divorce Details
With the divorce settlement finalized, we now have specific information about how marital property is to be divided between Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos. According to the article about the divorce in The New York Times, the following is what Jeff Bezos will keep as part of the divorce settlement based on information contained in a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing:
- 75 percent of the Amazon stock that the couple owns (which equals about 12 percent of the company in total, and was worth approximately $108 billion at the time the divorce settlement was finalized);
- All of the Bezos’ ownership interest in The Washington Post;
- All of the Bezos’ ownership interest in the Blue Origin space company; and
- Sole voting authority over the Amazon shares owned by MacKenzie Bezos.
The SEC filing shows that the following is what MacKenzie Bezos will get in the divorce settlement:
- 4 percent of Amazon (worth approximately $36 billion at the time the divorce settlement was finalized).
The remaining details of the settlement were not made public, and are not required to be made public. Ultimately, the details of the divorce settlement “could contain other compensation for Ms. Bezos.” In all likelihood, the settlement would contain additional compensation for MacKenzie Bezos given the divorce laws in Washington State, where the couple’s divorce occurred and where Amazon is based.
Community Property and Divorce Settlements in Washington State
Washington State, which is not only where Amazon is based but also where Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos have been raising their children, is what is known as a “community property” state.
Community property is a term that refers to all property owned by the marriage, and to property that was acquired by either spouse after the date of the marriage. In most community property states, there is a presumption that community property—which is property of the marriage—will be divided equally between the spouses. However, under Washington law, the statute specifically states that the court will distribute the property and the liabilities of the parties, either community or separate, in a just and equitable manner after considering all relevant factors. In other words, the court is tasked with dividing community property—which includes both community assets and community debts—in a manner that is just and equitable to both parties. The statute then lists the following as the factors for the court to consider:
- Nature and extent of the community property and the separate property;
- Duration of the marriage; and
- Economic circumstances of each spouse or domestic partner at the time the division of property is to become effective.
Based on the language of the statute and the manner in which it is applied, Washington state’s property division laws are distinct from those in many other community property states. As we mentioned, most community property states presume that the community property should be divided equally, or 50/50, between the spouses. Yet Washington law sounds more like the property distribution laws in “equitable distribution” states, where marital property is divided in a way that is fair or equitable to both spouses.
Since the Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos agreed to a settlement, a Washington court does not have to attend to the specific issues in the statute concerning the division of community property in a community property state. However, a judge must still review and sign off on a divorce settlement agreement. The judge has an opportunity to determine whether a settlement agreement looks very unfair and thus should not become law. If the judge decides that the agreement is fair and that any matters involving the children are in the children’s best interest, the judge can approve the agreement.
There Was No Prenuptial Agreement, in the Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos Divorce Case and Amazon Wealth Is Community Property
In terms of the Bezoses total wealth, you might be wondering why MacKenzie Bezos is getting such a large portion (even if it is much smaller than the portion that Jeff Bezos will retain). To be clear, the Bezoses did not have a prenuptial agreement in place. Accordingly, the assets from their marriage—known as “community property” in Washington State, as we mentioned above—would have to be divided between them. How much of a difference did it make that the Bezoses did not have prenuptial agreement?
As an article in Business Insider explains, “most of the Bezoses’ net worth is in the form of Amazon stock,” and as anyone knows who has been following Jeff Bezos’ career or the Bezoses’ divorce, “Jeff Bezos founded Amazon after his marriage to MacKenzie.” The couple met while working together at D.E. Shaw in New York. Accordingly, all of the Amazon wealth is community property. Without a prenuptial agreement, that wealth is property of both parties in the marriage.
Timetable from Filing for Divorce to Finalizing a Divorce Settlement
If you have been following the Bezos divorce process, you likely know that the couple initially filed for divorce back in January. If the divorce process has been as amicable as both the Bezoses allege, why is it taking such a long time?
Under Washington law, even if Jeff or MacKenzie Bezos wanted the divorce process to move more quickly, they are bound by certain time limits. Specifically, state law in Washington requires that anyone who files for divorce must wait 90 days from the date of filing before seeking approval for a divorce settlement from the court.
Contact an Ohio High Asset Divorce Lawyer