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The Gates divorce – dividing up the assets

News that Bill and Melinda Gates are divorcing has set the media alight with speculation about how their vast fortune will be divided, although it is believed that the separation will be “civil”.

However, if there are multiple high-value assets at stake, dividing them up is never completely straightforward.

The divorce settlement is further complicated by the couple’s joint ownership of the Gates Foundation, the largest private charitable foundation in the world.

Bill and Melinda are worth an estimated $130 billion and, although they have asked the court to honour their existing separation contract, both have hired big-hitting lawyers to ensure equality.

Because there was no pre-nuptial agreement, assets should be split 50/50 under Washington state law but there are still questions over property, as their family home is the base for the Gates Foundation and is where their youngest daughter lives. There are no doubt other issues to consider too, as with any divorce.

According to close sources, a lot of the work in dividing up their assets, which include almost 200,000 acres of farmland in the US, a fleet of classic cars, a private jet and a private island in Belize, has already been done.

Melinda is said to have started talking to lawyers in 2019, allegedly because of concerns around Bill’s relationship with Jeffrey Epstein.

Whatever the final split, neither spouse, in this case, is going away poor, but that is not always the case for divorcing couples.

For example, in the case of the Akhmedovs, dubbed the world’s most expensive divorce case, when the matter was first heard in London the husband employed the couple’s son to do “all he could” to stop his mother from obtaining the £450 million court-approved settlement.

Roger Isaacs, Forensic Partner at Milsted Langdon, said: “I am occasionally appointed to act in cases in which the combined assets of a divorcing couple are so large that they could never possibly manage to spend all their wealth even if they each lived to be more than a hundred years’ old.

It is always sad to see those occasions in which, despite such a surfeit of assets, the parties become embroiled in prolonged and bitter arguments about how they are to be divided.  This type of litigation seems particularly pointless when, as is sometime the case, the parties are in the seventies or even their eighties.

Where ever possible the professionals, be they lawyers or accountants, will try to talk sense into their clients to avoid costs being incurred unnecessarily.  However, when emotions are running high, common sense does not always prevail.”

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