$137 Billion at Stake as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Has No Prenup

By Tiffany Meier

After the world’s richest couple announced they were divorcing after 25 years of marriage, many wondered what would happen to their reported $137 billion worth. A new report states that the couple did not have a prenuptial agreement, putting billions of dollars on the line.

Citing “sources with direct knowledge,” TMZ reports that the Bezos did not have a prenuptial agreement, so their wealth will be split down the middle. The Bezos will file divorce documents in Washington, a community property state, which means all earnings and income made during the marriage are split 50-50.

When the two married in 1993, Jeff wasn’t even a millionaire. It wasn’t until four years later, in 1997, that he became one.

Possible Outcomes for the Money

As much of Jeff’s worth is tied up in Amazon stocks, the division of assets will likely be complicated, the news outlet reported. According to SEC filings, Bezos owns approximately 80 million shares of the company. He has been selling stock at a clip of approximately $1 billion per year to fund his other venture, space exploration company Blue Origin, according to Fox News. In addition to Amazon stock, the couple also owns 400,000 acres of property, making them two of the biggest landholders in the country.

A possible outcome for the stocks is that Jeff and MacKenzie each end up with about $65 billion in Amazon stock. That would make MacKenzie the world’s richest woman, overtaking L’Oréal heiress Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, according to the Atlantic. It would also make Bill Gates the world’s richest man once again.

Another possibility, according to family-law attorney Steve Mindel, is that the stock could be transferred into a single entity over which the former husband and wife would have joint control; an arrangement that might put Amazon’s investors and corporate directors more at ease, rather than having two shareholders.

In states without community-property laws, the default is a principle called “equitable distribution,” under which the divorcés’ assets are divided based on a range of factors, including the role that each spouse played in building up a fortune, reported the Atlantic. “You could have a 75-25 split, a 60-40 split, a 50-50 split,” said Bonnie Frost, a family-law attorney in New Jersey.

In the interest of privacy, it’s common for very wealthy couples to come to an agreement out of court. When a couple in an equitable-distribution state don’t agree to a settlement, it gets worked out in court, and the judge considers a variety of criteria.

Frost said that generally, the longer the marriage, the closer the split will be to 50-50. However, “if you’re divvying up 20 billion, and you’re getting 1 billion and someone else is getting 19…a judge might say that’s enough for you,” Frost said. The reasoning is even if it’s not equal, $1 billion is still enough to live on.

However, because there was no prenuptial agreement the splitting of assets will be complicated. The Bezos also have four children, including three sons and a daughter adopted from China. It is also unclear what will happen to the children at this point.

How They Met

The two announced their divorce publicly on Twitter on Jan. 9. It seems the split will be amicable as Bezos wrote: “After a long period of loving exploration and trial separation, we have decided to divorce and continue our shared lives as friends.”

“We feel incredibly lucky to have found each other and deeply grateful for every one of the years we have been married to each other,” the tweet reads. “We’ve had such a great life together as a married couple, and we also see wonderful futures ahead, as parents, friends, partners in ventures and projects, and as individuals pursuing ventures and adventures. Though the labels might be different, we remain a family, and we remain cherished friends.”

The couple met in 1992 when MacKenzie was working at investment firm D.E. Shaw, according to NBC News. In 2013, Mackenzie told Vogue magazine how they first met.

“My office was next door to his, and all day long I listened to that fabulous laugh. How could you not fall in love with that laugh?” she told the publication.

They were engaged for three months before getting married. After their marriage, Jeff Bezos left his job on Wall Street and moved to Seattle, Washington, where he started Amazon in 1994. Originally only selling books, Bezos then transformed the company into one of the world’s preeminent online retailers, making them the world’s richest couple.