Some details on the split between Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, became public Thursday — not splashed across tabloid pages, not in some dramatic courtroom flourish, but in a dry Securities and Exchange Commission filing and a brief statement from the splitting pair saying the Amazon.com founder was keeping 75% of the couple’s company stock.
After 25 years, four kids — and the creation of Amazon.com
— Jeff Bezos, the tech behemoth’s CEO, and MacKenzie announced in January they were deciding to divorce.
The parting pair will join the hundreds of thousands of Americans who split every year. But that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Carving up complex assets, dealing with white-hot media curiosity and the sheer amount of money at play are all ways this is not the undoing of any normal nuptial, divorce lawyers told MarketWatch.
Bezos, 55, the world’s richest man for now at least, is someone who’s very used to getting his way, said California matrimonial attorney Peter Walzer, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.
“In this arena, he’s got to compromise and work out a deal or the end result could be bad for him, his investors, the company, everyone involved.”
Kind of a corporate deal
And it looks like a deal did get hammered out. Apart from agreeing to Jeff Bezos’ hold on 75% of the couple’s shares, MacKenzie will receive about 4% of the company’s outstanding shares and is giving up voting rights, according to an SEC filing. She also will not have a stake in the Washington Post, the “complexifier” national newspaper Bezos owns, or his space-travel company Blue Origin, according to her statement on Twitter
MacKenzie tweeted Thursday she was “Grateful to have finished the process of dissolving my marriage with Jeff with support from each other and everyone who reached out to us in kindness, and looking forward to next phase as co-parents and friends.”
Back in January, the couple didn’t delve into details on the financial terms of separation and Amazon, headquartered in Seattle, Wash. didn’t respond to a request for further comment.
The Bezos’ statement at the time said they envisioned “wonderful futures ahead, as parents, friends, partners in ventures and projects, and as individuals pursuing ventures and adventures.”
’We might learn the most by whatever SEC filing is made.’
“We might learn the most by whatever SEC filing is made,” said David Starks, a partner at McKinley Irvin in Seattle, in January. The documents companies file with regulators like the SEC can discuss material changes in stock ownership.
And indeed, that’s part of the way it shook out: Amazon disclosed in an SEC filing that MacKenzie would get about 4% of the company’s outstanding stock under her divorce agreement.
The SEC filing said the couple filed their divorce paperwork on Thursday and a divorce decree was expected to be issued within 90 days. The filing did not specify which court where the couple filed their divorce petition.*
If it was filed in Washington, the state’s rules on “community property” will govern. Starks said that means “typically all assets acquired during parties’ marriage is community property subject to division by the court in a ‘just and equitable’ way.”
But “’just and equitable’ needn’t mean 50/50,” he pointed out. Starks noted that in many cases — at least where billions weren’t involved — the spouse making less money would be getting at least half to account for their smaller income, Starks said.
Amazon was founded in July 1994. Jeff and MacKenzie, now 48, tied the knot in 1993. Jeff said last year that MacKenzie did the accounting during Amazon’s first year, Reuters noted.
Starks wagered lawyers for both sides had already worked out a deal on the divorce, with the public announcement one of the final strokes.
In Washington, divorcing parties don’t need to file property settlement agreements with court, he noted. “We may never know how they organized everything.”
It’s also unclear whether the Bezoses have a prenuptial agreement.
It’s also unclear whether they have a prenuptial agreement. News reports said it appeared the pair didn’t have such a deal.
If they did, the deal’s terms would govern the split with little leeway for challenge, according to Raoul Felder, a Manhattan divorce lawyer with his share of high profile clients, like New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Robin Givens, Mike Tyson’s ex.
But Felder guessed they didn’t because the pre-marriage pacts only started leaving its “bad sort of discoloration” about 25 years ago. The reason for the new public awareness? None other than Donald Trump’s very public parting with Ivana Trump by 1992. “That was the first one that was very visible,” Felder said of a split played out on New York City tabloid pages.
Felder brushed off the feel-good language of the Bezos’ initial statement in January.
“It’s all baloney,” said Felder, who hasn’t met the couple.
High-profile divorces mean intense media scrutiny
“The one thing that incredibly rich don’t have, that they can’t really buy is privacy,” Walzer said.
He represented actress Katie Holmes when she allegedly surprised Tom Cruise by filing for divorce. Walzer, a partner at Walzer Melcher, said they chose to file in New York, not California, to try keeping the case confidential. “Within five minutes of filing, it was in the press,” he said.
Attorney Eleanor Alter knows the media attention divorces can attract. She’s represented the likes of Robert DeNiro, Madonna and Mia Farrow and other high-net worth clients.
But they don’t all go that way. She’s handled big-name divorces that garnered no attention “because everyone was very quiet and discreet.” Alter said it depended on the personalities of the spouses and lawyers who were involved, not to mention the friends and relatives.
Up until Thursday, the details on MacKenzie and Jeff’s split have been pretty hush-hush. But there’s been plenty of ink spilled on Bezos and his new girlfriend, Lauren Sanchez. The National Enquirer got a hold of steamy texts between the tech magnate and Sanchez. The Wall Street Journal reported that Sanchez’s brother, Michael, allegedly leaked the messages to the tabloid for $200,000. He’s denied he did. Bezos published a blog post saying the National Enquirer was trying to play hard ball with threats of publishing raunchy images mixed up in Bezos’ banter with Lauren Sanchez.
On Thursday, Bezos said he was “grateful” for MacKenzie’s support and kindness.
A divorce the size of a corporate split
At one point last fall, Amazon was almost worth $1 trillion dollars.
If there was no prenuptial agreement, Felder said, the Jeff-MacKenzie divorce would be “like two major corporations splitting apart.”
But big money doesn’t necessarily lead to bitter divorces, Alter said, emphasizing she didn’t know the specific financial stakes of the Bezos divorce. Though making for more “complicated deals,” divorces involving a lot of money can be easier to resolve than those with lesser amounts to go around, she said. According to Alter, “most of the time, when there are a lot of assets and money, if people aren’t crazy it settles.”
However the specifics work out, the Bezos’ money seems ultimately destined for their family, philanthropy or a mix of the two. The couple has already been donating to various causes. Their Day One Fund pledged $2 billion last fall to address homelessness and build new preschools.
Amazon shares were down 0.2% Thursday, but have gained 28.6% in the last 12 months, while the S&P 500
has gained 8.7% in that time and Dow Jones Industrial Average
has gained 13.1%.
This story was originally published on Jan. 9, 2019 and updated April 4, 2019.
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