The high-stakes divorce of Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos will involve unimaginable sums of money but the case may be easier to negotiate than with regular earners, simply because they are so rich.
“Their divorce will be handled as quickly as an Amazon delivery,” said West Coast-based attorney Christopher Melcher.
There is no minimizing the trauma of splitting up, even with adult children and ample financial security. Yet divorce lawyers say when very large amounts of money are involved, there’s simply more gauze for the wounds.
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com Inc., has a net worth of $137 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The couple intends to part “as friends,” and MacKenzie may well become the world’s richest woman.
Sergey Brin, a Google founder worth over $50 billion, and his wife, Anne Wojcicki, herself a major figure in Silicon Valley, sought to keep their parting amicable over the last few years. They have appeared in public together and continue raising their two children jointly.
When Harold Hamm, the oil and gas executive, and his wife, Sue Ann divorced in 2014, he wrote a check for an estimated $975 million, about 5 percent of his worth. The check, he said at the time, “got the job done” after years of bitterness.
It sounds obvious, but experts note that, with more wealth, each dollar means less – and that can turn down the emotional thermometer, at least in public.
“They became extraordinarily wealthy because they were smart,” said Michael Stutman, a prominent divorce lawyer. “And smart people do not spend money on lawyers fighting over the emotional landscape. They spend their money doing what they can to maximize their post-divorce net worth.”
He added, though: “Sometimes an expensive dispute can’t be avoided.”
Take the example of Frank and Jamie McCourt, the former Los Angeles Dodgers owners.
They moved to L.A. in 2014, spending millions on homes and pools, reportedly even $10,000 a month on hairstyling. Five years later they were trading charges, including infidelity, insubordination (he fired her as the team’s CEO) and other transgressions. He paid her $130 million as part of their divorce in 2009, as the team went into bankruptcy and was later resold.
“They dragged the team through their personal battle,” said Melcher, of Walzer Melcher in Los Angeles.
Divorces of the very rich can also become complicated when they cover several jurisdictions, philanthropies, money stashed off-shore and high-end assets like art.
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The divorce between Russia’s Dmitry Rybolovlev and his wife Elena unfolded over six jurisdictions and resulted in years of acrimony. In 2014, a Swiss judge awarded her $4.8 billion, though they next year they settled for reportedly less than that – though still a considerable sum.
Randy Kessler, an Atlanta-based divorce lawyer, gave one further caveat. If the lawyers involved in the Bezos case make even the smallest mistake, it could cost a billion dollars.
“It would scare me,” he said.