What happens when the richest human beings on the planet file to dissolve their marriage in a community property state, when, by all public accounts, they don’t have a premarital agreement? We will likely learn the answer to this question in the coming months (and years).
In January, Jeff Bezos publicly announced that he and his wife, MacKenzie Bezos, planned on filing for divorce. Bezos is the founder and CEO of a little company called Amazon. The couple married in 1993 and Amazon was founded the following year. The Bezos empire also includes ownership interests in the Washington Post, Whole Foods, Zappos.com, Ring, and a few dozen other businesses. Financial experts have pegged the Bezos fortune in the vicinity of $140 billion. Bezos surpassed Bill Gates on the Forbes list of the wealthiest billionaires as of 2018.
The law in the Bezos’ home state of Washington, like Arizona, is that property acquired after marriage is presumed to be community property. In Arizona, the community property statute says that, “all property acquired by either husband or wife during the marriage is the community property of the husband and wife…” There are a few limited exceptions to this rule. Contracting spouses can, of course, change these default presumptions with private contracts. Though it is possible that the Bezoses have a premarital agreement, a post-nuptial agreement, or some other variety of contract that would predetermine their respective legal rights in the event they dissolve the marriage, thus far the reporting is that no such agreements exist. If we assume that there is no premarital agreement, then the Bezoses would have no other choice but to determine the values of each of their joint assets and then undergo the arduous process of fairly dividing them. One of the many challenges to that process will be trying to reasonably assign a value for the unproven startup companies within the Bezos empire.
As you can see, the Bezos’ divorce may likely showcase how complicated the financial aspects in a divorce can be when financial circumstances change dramatically after spouses get married. Stay tuned!
Jonathan D. Brooks is a family law attorney at Mesa-based Udall Shumway PLC, who represents clients throughout all stages of the family court process for everything from dissolution, paternity and child support to spousal maintenance, relocation, premarital agreements, and adoption.