In January 2019, high net worth power couple, Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos (now MacKenzie Scott) announced their plans to divorce via a joint Twitter statement, and many predicted a form of legal warfare in what was expected to be (and, indeed, what ultimately proved to be) the largest divorce settlement in history.
Just a few months later, however, a Washington state court approved that divorce, all without formal litigation that would have dragged their family and businesses (which included Amazon, the Washington Post, and space travel company Blue Origin) through intense scrutiny and upset. The Bezos-Scott divorce, which seemingly proceeded without any real controversy, demonstrated that not all complex and high-stakes, high asset divorces need to descend into personal and legal chaos, even where it involves business division. It truly was an amicable divorce.
Here are three lessons that we can learn from those proceedings.
It is commonly believed that if a couple does not secure a prenup prior to their marriage (just as Bezos and Scott didn’t), any assets will be split equally in the event of their divorce. While laws vary state to state, and while 50:50 is still sometimes the fairest way of dividing assets, it is not necessarily a given; courts do still have the power to allocate assets according to their view of what is fair and equitable.
And that is exactly what happened in this case. There is no denying that MacKenzie Scott had an important impact on Amazon. Indeed, in its earliest days, Scott was responsible for administration and bookkeeping as the company grew in the couple’s garage, and while all the details of her involvement down the line are difficult to confirm, there is no doubt that her support of and partnership with Bezos made today’s Amazon possible. That said, few would argue that 50 percent of the Amazon empire (which was determined to be community property under WA law) would be a ‘fair split’ given Bezos’ leadership and innovation in the years that followed (although some suspected she could argue that).
Ultimately, Scott received four percent of Amazon (an amount worth roughly $38 billion), and Bezos retained 75 percent, which many observed to be a fair division of their wealth.
Filing fees, court fees, lawyers’ fees, extra for alimony, extra for contentious issues… these are all pretty common charges faced in divorce proceedings. But rarely do couples anticipate the significant costs of pre-trial discovery and investigation, a process often required just to prove – legally – what assets actually exist in the marriage.
The Bezos-Scott divorce, however, serves as a great example of how mediation can save couples from this disruptive and expensive procedure. When couples can be collaborative and hash out their issues in mediation, a considerable amount of time and money can be saved compared to thrashing out (the word choice is deliberate here) those same issues in court.
While it is impossible to know exactly what went on behind closed doors, the public statements made by Bezos and Scott indicate that they were able to settle their divorce in a way that was acceptable – financially and emotionally – to both of them without having intrusive, expensive and disruptive litigation do it for them.
Scott even posted a tweet to this effect when their settlement was finalized:
“Grateful to have finished the process of dissolving my marriage with Jeff from each other. … Happy to be giving him all my interests in the Washington Post and Blue Origin, and 75 percent of our Amazon stock plus voting control of my shares to support his continued contributions with the teams of these incredible companies.”
Couples that are prepared to follow in their footsteps have a lot to gain here, and not just financially.
The Bezos-Scott divorce was high-profile, but it was not high publicity in so far as the day-to-day details and negotiations were concerned. Bezos and Scott were always very private about their personal lives, especially when it came to their children. We can only presume, therefore, that one of the major reasons that the Bezos and Scott laundry was not aired in public was because of their desire to protect their children.
No doubt the children benefited from this at the time, and no doubt it prevented them from suffering emotional harm in the future.
But it’s not just the children who fared well here. Bezos and Scott have been praised widely for keeping their children out of the limelight throughout the divorce, and understandably, many family members would be happy for the same. It really does benefit everyone when the kids are spared the trauma of their parents’ divorce.
The bottom line of all this is clear: no matter the wealth involved, nor the apparent complexity from the outside, divorces can – and, with the right legal guidance, often are – resolved amicably, with minimal disruption to one’s personal and professional lives.
If you are facing a divorce and want robust advice on how to make the process as cordial and cooperative as possible, contact the Campbell Law Group. Collectively, our team has decades of experience guiding clients through the divorce process and devising fair solutions that are acceptable to both sides, no matter how complicated the case.