Inside Bill and Melinda Gates' 27-Year Marriage and $130 Billion Divorce
By Antoinette Bueno
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Inside Bill and Melinda Gates' $130 Billion Divorce
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Bill and Melinda Gates shocked the world on Monday, announcing their split after 27 years of marriage. Melinda officially filed for divorce in King County, Washington, on May 3, and in the court documents obtained by ET, she's not seeking spousal support from the Microsoft co-founder.
The court documents state that their "marriage is irretrievably broken," and in their joint statement announcing their split, 65-year-old Bill and 56-year-old Melinda also said they no longer believe they can "grow together as a couple."
"After a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage," the statement reads. "Over the last 27 years, we have raised three incredible children and built a foundation that works all over the world to enable all people to lead healthy, productive lives. We continue to share a belief in that mission and will continue our work together at the foundation, but we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives. We ask for space and privacy for our family as we begin to navigate this new life."
Bill and Melinda met when she began working for Microsoft in 1987 as a project manager. In a 2015 interview with Fortune, she recalled turning her future husband down when he asked her in the company parking lot to have dinner with him two weeks from then, because his invitation "wasn't spontaneous enough." But she did give him her phone number and he called her that night.
"I worked around a lot of really intelligent guys in college because there were very few women. When I look back, Bill was the same kind of guy I was hanging out with in college," she told Forbes in another interview later that year. "I had a lot of respect for them, and they had respect for me. I was definitely attracted to his brilliant mind, but beyond that, his curiosity. And he has a huge sense of fun. I love that wry side of him."
Bill and Melinda got married on New Year's Day in 1994 on the Hawaiian island of Lanai. Bill famously made a pros-and-cons list about marriage on a whiteboard, which he and Melinda discussed in the 2019 Netflix series Inside Bill's Brain.
"You know, we cared a lot for each other and there were only two possibilities: either, we were going to break up or we were going to get married," Bill said in the documentary. "I took the idea of marriage very seriously."
In a 2019 interview with The Sunday Times, Melinda noted, "When he was having trouble making the decision about getting married, he was incredibly clear that it was not about me, it was about, 'Can I get the balance right between work and family life?'"
Bill also noted in the documentary that he and Melinda were "truly equal partners."
"She's a lot like me in that she is optimistic and she is interested in science," she said. "She is better with people than I am."
As for Melinda, she told USA Today of their partnership, "I think people have a certain view of Bill, because he was a high-charging CEO running Microsoft. I think people must think, 'Oh well, Melinda must not really have equality with Bill.' Actually, I have total equality with Bill. But it took a while for us to get there.'
In 2019, Melinda shared footage on Facebook of Bill cutting their wedding cake as she laughed beside him to mark their 25th anniversary.
"We told you it was time to cut the cake. You thought that meant you needed to cut a slice for everyone and did some astonishingly quick math to calculate exactly how big each slice should be," she wrote. "This is the moment I realized what was happening -- and also the moment you realized that cake had a cardboard middle and I had forgotten to mention it. I laughed so hard I couldn't speak. I thought my heart was full that night, but the last 25 years have taught me just how full a heart can get."
In a 2018 Facebook Live presented by Lin-Manuel Miranda at Hunter College, Bill talked about what made their marriage successful at the time.
"Working together as well as raising a family together, there's a certain intensity to that," he said. "But we're very lucky because we mostly see things the same way, the goals are very much the same. It works well."
"There's definitely some tactical day-to-day pieces where you may not always agree," Melinda added. "But I would say this, neither of us are afraid of a little bit of grist in the system, neither in business nor in our marriage. That's how you actually grow. And so we will have tough conversations."
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is now one of the the world’s largest private charitable foundations, working to fight poverty, disease and inequity around the world. According to the foundation's website, they've spent $53.8 billion on their endeavors and have invested more than $1.75 billion to fight COVID-19. In a statement, the Gates Foundation said Bill and Melinda would remain as co-chairs and trustees of the organization despite their split.
"They will continue to work together to shape and approve foundation strategies, advocate for the foundation's issues, and set the organization's overall direction," the foundation's statement reads.
As for how Bill and Melinda will divide their assets, the two did not have a prenup, though Melinda's divorce petition states that they have a separation contract and that they're asking for the court to divide their debts and liabilities, real property and personal property according to the contract. A separation contract is a private legal document signed by a couple that deals with all aspects of their separation, and is signed without involving the court.
Washington is also considered a community property state, so any assets acquired during the marriage are equally owned by both partners. Just some of their assets include 242,000 acres of farmland and several multibillion-dollar properties, most famously their 66,000 square foot home in Washington -- called Xanadu 2.0 after Citizen Kane -- which is worth well over $100 million.
Forbes reports that Bill is worth $130.5 billion, making him the fourth richest person in the world. According to the outlet, if Bill and Melinda did decide to split the fortune equally, Melinda would be worth $65.25 billion.
ET spoke to Forbes Assistant Managing Editor Kerry Dolan on Tuesday, who talked about the financial side of their split.
"As best we can tell, they already came to a separation agreement and this has probably been in the works for a long time," Dolan says.
Dolan noted that just because Washington is a community property state, it doesn't necessarily mean that Bill and Melinda agreed to split everything equally.
"Typically, you know, most marriages in a community property state, when you get divorced, you split the assets 50/50 that have been gained during the marriage, right? But there is a possibility to create a separate agreement that doesn't have to be 50/50, so the separation agreement that we know from the filings that they have created could be something less than 50/50," she says. "If they did split the fortune 50/50, this would be the biggest most expensive divorce in history. Melinda would stand to gain about 65 billion dollars if they split that 130 billion dollar fortune in half."
"By now, many of you have heard the news that my parents are separating," Jennifer wrote in part. "It's been a challenging stretch of time for our whole family."
"I'm still learning how to best support my own process and emotions as well as family members at this time, and I am grateful for the space to do so," she continued. "I won't personally comment further on anything around the separation, but please know that your kind words and support mean the world to me."
Meanwhile, in their 2018 Facebook Live, Melinda noted that she and Bill always made it a point to "show up with a united front" in front of their kids and in business. But in her The Sunday Times interview, she did mention tough times in their marriage, and said they used humor to get through it.
"He needs a little training, and he'd tell you that too," she said. "We've just gotten to a point in life where Bill and I can both laugh about more things. And, believe me, I can remember some days that were so incredibly hard in our marriage where you thought, 'Can I do this?'"
In his Netflix documentary, Bill said one of his biggest regrets in life revolved around Melinda. When the director asked, "If you got hit by a bus today, died, what's the one thing, the one thing you said, 'God, I wish I had done that I haven't done?,'" Bill replied, "You know, thanking Melinda."