The world’s richest man, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and his wife of 25 years – MacKenzie Bezos – have announced they will divorce, leaving the fate of the pair’s massive fortune potentially in the hands of Washington state courts.
TMZ reported on Thursday that the couple did not have a prenuptial agreement detailing terms of a possible split.
While that does not preclude the possibility there was some type of post-nuptial agreement put in place, it is not impossible that the pair had no terms laid out in the event of a divorce.
“We will have cases where there’s a lot of money ... classic cases to have a pre-nup,” Kelly Frawley, a partner specializing in matrimonial and family law at Kasowitz Benson Torres, told FOX Business. “[They could even create a] post-nup during the marriage, and they just don’t do it.”
Washington – where the pair live and where Amazon is based – is a community property state, as opposed to an equitable distribution state, like New York. In a community property state, all assets acquired during the marriage are considered marital property and subject to a 50-50 split. That means MacKenzie Bezos could be entitled to half of the entrepreneur’s fortune.
Considering Jeff Bezos has an estimated net worth of about $137 billion, there’s a lot of assets to be looked at and the process will likely be a long one. But the most notable is his trillion-dollar market cap company.
Bezos is e-commerce giant Amazon’s largest shareholder with a 16.3 percent stake. If his wife is given half of that ownership, it could change the ownership dynamics, and even control, of the company. Likely, the division of assets won’t be that straightforward where Amazon is concerned.
“Clearly [Bezos] has done a wonderful job building value at Amazon and is responsible for much of the increase in the value of the stock, so his control is valuable to the family,” Raymond James adviser Sacha Millstone told FOX Business. “There would appear to be many interests, and many ways to approach the valuation of the stock, and division of assets to benefit family members, now and in the future. I would expect some creative solutions.”
One solution, for example, is Jeff Bezos could have Amazon valued by experts and dole out a monetary payment to his soon-to-be ex-spouse for her stake in the company, Frawley noted.
Typically, an individual in Jeff Bezos’ position might not necessarily want his ex-spouse holding a stake in his company, Emily Pollock, a partner specializing in matrimonial and family law at Kasowitz Benson Torres, told FOX Business.
“There are too many ways that they remain connected,” Pollock noted.
One famous business couple that wrestled with a similar issue was Steve and Elaine Wynn, who became entangled in protracted court battles over her stake in Wynn Resorts. Elaine Wynn eventually became the company’s largest shareholder.
In addition to Amazon, Jeff Bezos also owns a rocket venture – Blue Origin – The Washington Post and a venture capital firm. Together, the couple owns a number of properties across Washington; California; Texas; Washington, D.C.; and New York.
The pair also has four children.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, Amazon said “Jeff remains focused on and engaged in all aspects of Amazon.”