Billionaire Microsoft (MSFT) co-founder Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda Gates, announced on Monday that they would end their 27-year marriage, likely fueling speculation about how the high-profile divorce will play out.
Family lawyer Randy Kessler, who has handled divorce cases involving professional athletes and entertainers, accurately predicted what court documents show — that the Gates worked out in advance how to separate their estimated $130 billion in net worth.
A petition for dissolution of marriage that Melinda Gates filed on Monday noted that, while the couple did not have a prenuptial agreement, they did have a separation agreement. The petition simply asks the court to divide the property as laid out in that agreement and does not ask for ongoing spousal support.
“My guess is they're going to work this out very privately, and that they will both be very comfortable with the way it turns out.” Kessler said. “I cannot imagine that she won't be happy or he won't be happy, financially.”
According to the petition filed in Washington state’s King County Superior court on Monday afternoon, Melinda Gates, 56, filed for the divorce stating, “This marriage is irretrievably broken. We ask the court to dissolve our marriage and find that our marital community ended on the date stated in our separation contract.”
Bill Gates is represented in the divorce by lawyers at Munger Tolles & Olson, which was originally co-founded by Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A, BRK-B) Vice Chairman Charlie Munger. Lawyers at Paul Weiss are representing Melinda Gates.
“If it was about the money,” Kessler said, “they’d stay married.”
“People that have extraordinary wealth, have it for a reason,” Kessler added. “They know what not to waste money on, and what not to be in the press about. Divorce is not something to waste money on.”
Melinda and Bill Gates each posted to their Twitter accounts on Monday a statement about their decision.
In addition to the couple’s wealth gained through Microsoft's empire, the couple will also need to decide on the future of their philanthropic entity Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Prior to the divorce filing, the Gates had transferred $20 billion of Microsoft stock to the non-profit.
“I think it's going to remain as it is,” Kessler predicted about the enterprise that focuses on global health and poverty initiatives. “It's a testament to them if they can get divorced and still be working together on that...never underestimate bill or Melinda Gates, right?”
Because the foundation is not an asset that either Gates needs to be able to pay their bills, Kessler said, it shouldn’t present a challenge, financially. To add, he said, the foundation's management team will likely play the most important role for its future. Currently, Bill and Melinda Gates serve as foundation co-chairs.
“It’s more of an image thing,” he said. “I think the focus will be on not changing that image. They don't want their contributors or donors to worry that there's going to be anything different than it was.”