Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, are divorcing, ending a 25-year marriage that played a role in the creation of an e-commerce company that made Bezos one of the world's wealthiest people.
The decision to divorce comes after a trial separation, according to a statement posted Wednesday on Jeff Bezos' Twitter account. He and his wife both signed the announcement, which ended with a vow to remain "cherished friends."
"If we had known we would separate after 25 years, we would do it all again," the couple said.
Left unanswered was one of the biggest sticking points in any divorce: How the assets amassed during the marriage will be divided.
And there may never have been more money than in this case.
Jeff Bezos is ranked at the top of most lists of the world's wealthiest people, and his fortune currently hovers around $137 billion, according to estimates by both Forbes and Bloomberg. Virtually all of that is tied up in the nearly 79 million shares of Amazon stock (currently worth about $130 billion) that Bezos owns, translating into a 16 percent stake in the Seattle company. Bezos, 54, also owns rocket ship maker Blue Origin and The Washington Post, which he bought for $250 million in 2013.
Because the pair were married before Amazon was founded, it's likely that MacKenzie Bezos, a 48-year-old novelist, holds a large claim to that fortune, though details hinge on where the couple files for divorce and if they had a prenuptial agreement.
King County, where their home is located, confirmed on Twitter Wednesday that the Bezoses had not filed for divorce in court. The couple own a home in a wealthy Seattle suburb within the county. Jeff Bezos also bought a mansion in a swanky Washington D.C. neighborhood last year for $23 million. The Bezoses have four children.
"The property acquired during the marriage is common property," said Payseno. That includes stock ownership, although Amazon has not filed any regulatory documents to suggest Bezos' stake in the company has changed. Amazon didn't respond to inquiries about how the divorce may affect that stake.
The Bezoses will almost certainly settle the divorce outside of court, if they haven't already, said Jacqueline Newman, a Manhattan divorce lawyer and managing partner at Berkman Bottger Newman & Rodd.
"For the most part, they're going to want to keep things private and quiet," she said. "Especially in the case of a public company, they're not going to want information to leak because it could ultimately affect stock prices."
Amazon's stock edged up $2.84 Wednesday to close at $1,659.42. That left Amazon with a market value of $811 billion, more than any other publicly traded company in the U.S.
The amicable tenor of the Bezoses' divorce announcement makes it highly likely that the couple already has reached an agreement on how to divide their assets, Payseno said.
Jeff Bezos' tremendous wealth has magnified the focus on him, although his divorce seems unlikely to enthrall the public like high-profile breakups involving movie stars such as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Or even those of other billionaires, such as Donald Trump's tabloid-fodder split with his first wife Ivana in the early 1990s, long before he was elected president.
But the Bezos divorce seems likely to attract more attention than when Google co-founder Sergey Brin — currently worth $49 billion — divorced his former wife Anne in 2015.
Amazon's origins trace back to a road trip that the Bezoses took together not long after they met in New York while working at hedge fund D.E. Shaw. They got married just six months after they began dating, according to Bezos.
Not long after that, Jeff Bezos quit his job at Shaw and started an online bookstore. While his wife did the cross-country driving, Bezos wrote a business plan on the way to Seattle — chosen for its abundance of tech talent. By July 1995, Amazon was operating out of a garage, with MacKenzie Bezos lending a hand, according to a review she posted on Amazon in 2013 panning "The Everything Store," a book about Bezos and the company written by Brad Stone.
"I was there when he wrote the business plan, and I worked with him and many others represented in the converted garage, the basement warehouse closet, the barbecue-scented offices, the Christmas-rush distribution centers, and the door-desk filled conference rooms in the early years of Amazon's history," she recalled.
Michael Liedtke reported from San Francisco. Joseph Pisani in Las Vegas contributed to this report.
KING 5's Mark Wright talked to well-known Seattle family law attorney Jennifer Payseno, a McKinley Irvin partner and First Vice President of the King County Bar Association.
Q: What happens first?
A: A petition is what is filed to start a divorce. If the parties are not able to agree on the terms of the divorce, then a court decides. Many couples also draft a separate agreement spelling out how their property will be divided. That agreement is not filed with the court.
The attorney I talked with thinks Jeff and MacKenzie probably have already agreed on how to divide their assets. The last thing the CEO of the world’s biggest company wants is an ugly, public fight over who gets what.
What’s important to know is the divorce decree is a public document, but the property division agreement is not. That means we’ll probably never know how much money MacKenzie will get in the settlement.
Q: What does the law say about assets when rich couples divorce?
A: Rich or poor, the law in Washington is applied the same. We live in what’s known as a “community property” state — one of 9 in the U.S. A lot of people mistakenly think that means any assets accumulated after you get married are split 50/50. That’s not necessarily true. The law in Washington only says the assets shall be divided in a fair and equitable way. It is possible that one spouse could get more than another, depending on the circumstances.
Here’s another important point: an asset that belongs to one spouse before marriage could be given to the other spouse in a divorce settlement. Again, it goes back to if the division of assets is fair and equitable.
Q: Does how long you’re married make a difference in how assets are divided?
A: The short answer is yes, according to the attorney I spoke with. Length of marriage is an important factor to consider in Washington. In a longer-term marriage, the court is going to be more concerned with equalizing the parties resources. Jeff and MacKenzie were married for 25 years.
Q. Is MacKenzie entitled to half of the value of Amazon?
A: The couple married in New York when they both worked for a hedge fund. They moved to Seattle where Jeff Bezos started Amazon. That’s a key factor. They started the company after they were married. The attorney I spoke with said MacKenzie may certainly be entitled to one half of the estate, which would include the value of the Amazon stock.
Q: Did they have a prenuptial agreement?
A: We don’t know. Washington does allow both pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements. The attorney I spoke with says marital agreements are favored in Washington provided that the agreement appears fair, there has been full disclosure of all of the assets and there was full opportunity to have independent legal advice to understand the nature and terms of the agreement.