The Bill and Melinda Gates’ divorce

Bill and Melinda Gates divorce

The Bill and Melinda Gates’ divorce

Our managing partner, Amanda McAlister, offers her expert opinion on the news that Bill and Melinda Gates are to divorce, and looks at some of the issues involved.

I woke this morning to the news that Bill and Melinda Gates were to get divorced. Minutes later my phone starting ringing, as I took one request after another from journalists wanting to cover the story and get my opinion on what a later-in-life divorce involves. It’s no exaggeration to say that almost every media outlet around the world is keen to look closer into why this multi-billionaire couple would want to part after 27 years of a seemingly very successful marriage.

Gates, 65, the fourth richest man in the world, founded Microsoft in 1975 and met his future wife Melinda in 1987, the year he became the world’s youngest billionaire. In 2000 they established the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 

They have three children – Jennifer, 25, Rory, 21, and Phoebe, 18 – and in the message announcing their divorce, they wrote:

“After a great deal of thought and a lot of work, we have made the decision to end our marriage.

“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 to 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.”

Prenups and separation agreements

Court documents reveal that the couple do not have a prenuptial agreement. We’re told Melinda, 56, filed for divorce at a court in Washington state, saying “this marriage is irretrievably broken” when asked to explain the split, also revealing there was no prenuptial agreement when they wed on a Hawaiian golf course in 1994.

However, famously Bill used a pro and con list on a whiteboard to decide to whether or not to ask Melinda to marry him, so I suspect the couple may well have approached the ending of their marriage in the same carefully thought-out manner.

Indeed, the document, filed Monday in King County Superior Court in Seattle, notes that the pair has a “separation agreement.” A separation agreement is usually signed at the end of a marriage and lays out the terms of the split – it will, apparently, dictate how the couple will divide up their assets, which include the family home, a $125million compound overlooking Lake Washington on the outskirts of Seattle, a mansion in San Diego, a Santa Fe ranch, a countryside retreat in Wellington, Florida, a lakeside lodge in Wyoming which used to be home to Buffalo Bill and a garage full of Porsches, Ferraris and Lamborghinis. In fact, the Gates fortune is estimated at well over $100 billion, so I’m not surprised Melinda has not requested spousal support, according to the filing.

Divorcing after a long marriage

It’s interesting to note that there has been a significant increase in the number of couples filing for divorce who have been married for more than 20 years. I think it’s significant that the Gates’ youngest child recently turned 18: it’s reasonable to assume the couple wanted to wait for all their children to reach adulthood before they announced their formal separation, and I would also say it takes guts to do this after such a long marriage – perhaps even more so when your relationship, and your life, is so public.

How would this divorce be treated here?

Technically, separation agreements aren’t legally enforceable under UK law. But if both parties have been open and honest about their finances and taken independent legal advice about the agreement, then it’s entirely likely the court will decide you should stick to it.

However, under our jurisdiction there is also what’s known as the “millionaire defence”. This is a term created following the case of Thyssen-Bornemisza v Thyssen-Bornemisza (No) [1985] FLR 1069 where a wealthy party put forward a defence to providing full disclosure, on the basis that he had sufficient wealth to pay a lump sum or maintenance to the financially dependent party. In other words, why should the court go to the trouble, time and expense of investigating the millionaire’s means, when it is clear that he/she can meet whatever reasonable order the court is likely to make?

This defence causes some controversy as the court has an obligation to consider the parties’ financial resources properly. Furthermore, in order for the court to conclude that an order is fair and reasonable, it must consider the full and frank disclosure of all material facts, documents and other material. Nevertheless, it remains a viable option for the very wealthy, who are hopeful of keeping the precise details of their finances entirely private.

Keep it respectful

When Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie announced their split after 25 years of marriage, they emphasised that the decision was mutual. But even when a couple part on amicable terms, the financial untangling is likely to be complex, simply because the sums involved, and the assets held, are so huge. However, neither party has said anything derogatory in public about the other, and both have moved on: MacKenzie married again two years after the divorce, her ex-husband Jeff has been with his girlfriend for two years.

I hope Bill and Melinda Gates both go forward in positivity and enjoy a fulfilling and happy future, and in particular I applaud their decision to continue to work together on their charitable foundation – showing respect for one’s ex is vital if they are to be a couple who, instead of being known for how wrong they got their divorce, are known for getting it right.

 

If you would like to consult one of our expert family lawyers about any aspect of divorce or separation, please do get in touch today. We are here to help you. 

More love and marriage…

Sarah Jessica Parker

More love and marriage…

We had such a great response to our recent Love and Marriage blog that we thought we’d add some more quotes to our special selection of celebrity words of wisdom about love, relationships and marriage.

Because there’s no doubt that on this topic everyone has their own opinion: some have their own personal deal-breakers, some know for certain the one thing that will melt their heart – and a lot of people will tell you it takes hard work and commitment.

See if you agree!

Katharine-Hepburn

“I often wonder whether men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.” Katharine Hepburn

 

Albert Einstein

“Men marry women with the hope they will never change. Women marry men with the hope they will change. Invariably, they are both disappointed.” Albert Einstein

 

Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel

“We have a couple of rules in our relationship. The first rule is that I make her feel like she’s getting everything. The second rule is that I actually do let her have her way in everything. And, so far, it’s working.” Justin Timberlake

 

Anne Bancroft

“The best way to get most husbands to do something is to suggest that perhaps they’re too old to do it.” Anne Bancroft

 

Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth,

“I think the main lesson we have learnt is that tolerance is the one essential ingredient in any happy marriage.” Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

 

Rita Rudner

“I think men who have a pierced ear are better prepared for marriage. They’ve experienced pain, and bought jewellery.” Rita Rudner

 

Sarah Jessica Parker

 

“It seems so silly, but I think you’re very lucky if you like the person. I still just really like him.” Sarah Jessica Parker

Love and marriage…

David Beckham, Victoria Beckham

Love and marriage…

As specialist family lawyers, sometimes we’re asked: “what makes a successful marriage?”

There’s no doubt that on this topic everyone has their own opinion: some have their own personal deal-breakers, some know for certain the one thing that will melt their heart – and a lot of people will tell you it takes hard work and commitment.

So we’ve gathered together a special selection of celebrity words of wisdom about love, relationships and marriage – see if you agree!

Dustin Hoffman and wife Lisa

 

“To have a successful marriage a man must, on a fundamental level, be scared of his wife.” Dustin Hoffman

 

Winston and Clementine Churchill

“My most brilliant achievement was my ability to be able to persuade my wife to marry me.” Winston Churchill

 

George Clooney and Amal Clooney

“I have someone who I can talk to about anything, and someone who I care more about than I’ve cared about anything. It’s nice.” George Clooney

 

Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones

“For marriage to be a success, every woman and every man should have their own bathroom.” Catherine Zeta-Jones

 

John Legend and Chrissy Teigen

“I always have a note in my pocket that reads ‘John did it’ – just in case I’m murdered, because I don’t want him to remarry.” Chrissy Teigen

 

David Beckham, Victoria Beckham

“Do you go through tough times? Of course. That’s part of relationships. It’s part of marriages. It’s part of having children. It’s part of having responsibilities.” David Beckham

 

 

“Marriage is a wonderful invention: then again, so is the bicycle repair kit.” Billy Connolly

How to have a respectful divorce – read Amanda McAlister’s top tips

BBC Morning Live

How to have a respectful divorce

Following our managing partner Amanda McAlister’s guest appearance on BBC Morning Live, we thought you might find it useful to read her nine essential tips on how to have a respectful divorce.

I am very often asked if it is possible to have an amicable divorce, to which I always answer yes, it is, but only if both parties want it to be. In my experience, it’s only really when both people in the marriage or civil partnership have been separated for a considerable amount of time that they’re able to get their heads around what the split means for them and all those involved. You cannot escape the fact that divorce means huge change: wanted or unwanted, it’s still an enormous life event that even for the strongest of people, can create significant worry, insecurity and an enormous hit on a normally stable equilibrium.

What do you need to do to have a respectful divorce?

1. Get professional advice, fast

Understandably you will have lots of concerns, and for many those at the top of their list are will I lose the kids, and do I have to move out of my house? An experienced family lawyer will be able to help you with all your questions and take you through the divorce process step-by-step.   This will help to ease some of the fear and panic and will often feel empowering and prepared for what lies ahead.

2. Phone a neutral friend

Speaking of asking your friends, phone someone you know well, but who is neutral. Tempting though it is to speak to family members and your best mates, these people will, understandably but inevitably, take your side and by doing so they often fuel the problem. You need someone clear-eyed and with no axe to grind who will be honest. Only hearing what you want to hear is rarely the answer.

3. Team work is key

Choose your legal team carefully. It’s not going to help you in the long term if you engage the lawyer with the best record and a top reputation if you can’t connect with them. Do you feel your lawyer is empathetic? Will they be available whenever you need them? Do you feel reassured that they genuinely understand all your concerns? Once you’ve found that lawyer, get in touch with that neutral friend, then decide if you need to consult other professionals, such as a pension actuary or a forensic accountant.

4. Positive communication

Treat your divorce as though it’s a business dealing.  No matter how tempted you are to send a highly-charged, emotional WhatsApp or email, first ask yourself – would I send this to a work colleague? Would I call my boss all the names under the sun and accuse him or her of being a terrible person? Probably not, because all actions have consequences and if you provoke the other party in this way, ultimately, you’re not going to achieve what you want. A civilised, respectful divorce.

5. Do not use social media to try to hang onto your ex

We have all seen examples of people using social media to talk about their pain and hurt as they go through a split. A very recent example is that of celebrity couple Alice Evans and Ioan Gruffudd, where Evans announced on Twitter “My husband doesn’t love me” and went on to say he had left her and their children. No matter how much pain and hurt you are feeling, this is not the way forward and rather than bring your ex back to you it is more likely to inflame an already difficult situation and may even entrench your ex’s decision to leave the marriage. And if you have children, imagine how horrible they will feel as their friends tell them they’ve read all about your parents’ arguments on social media. And this leads me to say

6. Do not badmouth your ex to your children

I can’t stress this enough. It won’t achieve anything other than pain, and studies have shown that emotional conflict can be as destructive as physical conflict. Your children love you both, and you both love your children. Why hurt them? Because that’s all that will happen. I have dealt with some heart-breaking cases where children have been alienated from one parent because the other parent has used them as an attempt to punish their ex. It’s the children who suffer and it’s your duty to do the right thing by them. Sound off to your mate over a glass of wine. Tell your solicitor how badly your ex is behaving. Write it all down in a letter and then burn it. But don’t say anything to your children. One day, when they’ve grown up as well-rounded, well-adjusted adults, you, and they, will be grateful that you behaved well. It will be worth it, I promise you.

7. Develop a routine from the very outset

Know who is doing what, and when. Children need certainty and they will be miserable if they’re always the child who hasn’t got their PE kit for school the next morning or they’ve left their homework at their Dad’s last night because they thought they would be staying there the following day. If you can’t establish this routine with your ex, then look at mediation. A skilled mediator can put together a plan that works for both of you and takes the heat out of any potential conflict.

8. Grit your teeth and work to transform your relationship with your ex

Something has ended, yes, but something new is beginning. If you have young children together you have many years of dealing with your ex ahead of you, so it’s in your interests to forge a new path. Remember, you don’t have to be friends – that’s often asking too much – but always being angry takes a great deal of energy and effort. Easier for your own mental health, and that of your children, to build new boundaries within which you are civilised partners working respectfully with each other in a way that benefits everyone.

9. Keep in mind that there is, truly, life after divorce

No matter how dark things seem or how hard the road ahead looks, it really does get better. There’s a good life ahead for you. Believe in it.

If you are thinking about getting a divorce, you should obtain advice from a specialist family lawyer. Get in touch today. We are here to help you.

Why you should consider a prenuptial agreement

prenuptial agreement

Why you should consider a prenuptial agreement

In the second in our series of blogs focusing on relationships, partner Fiona Wood looks at prenuptial agreements, and explains why they are no longer something solely for the very wealthy.

Since the Supreme Court decision in Radmacher v Granatino in 2010, which gave prenuptial agreements a legal standing in England and Wales, and as a result of the general public’s increased awareness of the potential benefits of these agreements, they are no longer something that only the rich obtain before they marry. 

Although the divorce rate in England and Wales is reducing, approximately 40% of marriages still end in divorce. In light of this, increasing numbers of people would like to put something in place which would allow them to avoid messy and expensive divorce proceedings if their marriage does end, and also to provide them with financial certainty should this happen.

Many of those considering having a prenuptial agreement have been divorced before and are bringing two families together. They are often keen to preserve their assets, if, sadly, their marriage does not work, for their children, as well as wanting financial certainty.

If there is a prenuptial agreement in place and a couple divorces, the terms of the agreement are a factor which a judge will consider when deciding what is a fair divorce settlement. Whilst the terms of the prenuptial agreement are not automatically followed by a judge, if they meet both spouses’ needs and the agreement has been entered into properly, a judge is likely to order a financial settlement in the same terms as the prenuptial agreement.

For a prenuptial agreement to be entered into properly the following must happen:

  • the couple each need to obtain independent legal advice on the agreement
  • hey both need to provide details of their assets, liabilities and income, and
  • the agreement should be negotiated and signed at least three months prior to the wedding.

This allows the couple to both obtain advice, have plenty of time to consider this advice and therefore make an informed decision about whether they want to sign the agreement.

If you are getting married and think that having a prenuptial agreement may be of benefit to you, you should obtain advice from a specialist family lawyer. Get in touch today. We are here to help you.

With this ring…

engagement ring

With this ring…

For many people, February is the month of romance, because Valentine’s Day is right in the middle of it. Cards, roses, champagne, maybe even a proposal of marriage. So this month, our expert family lawyers are looking at all the issues that surround engagement and marriage, starting with the engagement ring.

The engagement ring is special. There’s a lot of nonsense talked about how much it should cost – that’s an entirely personal decision – but what is important is what it symbolises: a promise between two people of the intention to marry.

Sometimes the ring is a family heirloom, handed down from one generation to the next. Sometimes the couple buy it together. Sometimes the proposal is entirely planned between the two people concerned, for others it comes as a complete surprise to one of them.  But if, once all the excitement has died down, and after consideration, one half of an engaged couple decides to call off the wedding, what happens to the engagement ring?

Do I have to return the engagement ring?

The Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1970 states:

“The gift of an engagement ring shall be presumed to be an absolute gift; this presumption may be rebutted by proving that the ring was given on the condition, express or implied, that it should be returned if the marriage did not take place for any reason.”

This means that the gift of an engagement ring is presumed to be just that – an absolute gift. However, where an engagement ring is, for example, a family heirloom, and if it can be shown that the gift was made on condition that it would be returned if the marriage does not take place, then the ring should be returned.

If you are affected by any of the issues outlined here, please get in touch today. We are here to help.

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