Breaking up, as they say, is hard to do. But it’s got to sting even more when there is $137 billion on the line, as is the case of Amazon head Jeff Bezos and his soon-to-be-ex-wife, MacKenzie Tuttle Bezos. According to TMZ, the couple does not have a prenuptial agreement.
While a no-prenup billionaire breakup might conjure up thoughts of War of the Roses, it might not actually be so bad. Bezos says they are “super amicable” and, since it appears they are filing for divorce in Washington state, the law is very clear. Divorces there are only granted based on “irretrievable breakdown” and considered “no fault,” as demanded by the Washington State Constitution. That means all assets and property not inherited or gifted to one spouse by name are considered “communal property” owned by both spouses and, as such, have to be divided equally.
Still, it can’t be easy to divide a portfolio such as Bezos’ down the middle. Jeff Bezos is named as the 28th largest landowner in the United States, according to The Land Report, which keeps tabs on such matters. His wife is not on the list. The couple apparently jointly own five homes: in Medina, Washington; Beverly Hills; Van Horn, Texas; Washington, D.C., and Manhattan.
Even an amicable uncoupling could affect Amazon and possibly The Washington Post, which the online-retail baron bought during his marriage. Amazon is a public company of which Bezos alone owns controlling power through his 78.8 million shares—roughly 16.2 percent of the firm, valued at approximately $130.7 billion, according to The Street. If he has to give half of those shares to his ex-wife, it would dilute his ownership of the company, say analysts who have been studying this in the context of other big-money breakups. That could have a detrimental effect on the value of Amazon, which would ultimately not be in any ex’s interest, according to CNBC.
Still, if he has to split up his shares, he may lose control of the company. Seattle-based attorney David Starks told CNBC that he assumed that the Bezos’ had come to an agreement before announcing their divorce. “I have to imagine that some of the longest conversations and most legal mind power went into how to fashion a settlement that retained Jeff Bezos’ ability to remain a controlling shareholder in Amazon,” Starks told CNBC, suggesting that Tuttle may have agreed to give up claim to the stock or give up her voting rights to her shares in exchange for some other asset.
The couple met at work in 1992 when Bezos was high on the ladder at New York hedge fund D. E. Shaw. He hired Tuttle for a job, which she says she only took to pay the bills and sustain her dream to be a novelist. After a whirlwind romance, which started when Tuttle asked Bezos to lunch, they were engaged within three months and married within six. The couple then moved out West, where Bezos founded Amazon in 1993. Tuttle was one of Amazon’s first employees, working as an accountant for the then-tiny online bookseller.
In a 2013 interview with Vogue, Tuttle admitted she was one lucky gal to end up married to such a wealthy entrepreneur. “I am definitely a lottery winner of a certain kind,” she said. “And it makes my life wonderful in many ways, but that’s not the lottery I feel defined by.”
In the same interview, Bezos lavished praise on his wife’s intellect. “I think my wife is resourceful, smart, brainy, and hot,” he told the magazine. “But I had the good fortune of having seen her résumé before I met her, so I knew exactly what her SATs were.”
Twenty-five years and four children later, Bezos is now the richest man on the planet, according to Forbes. And the pair are splitting up after a “trial separation,” according to announcement Bezos made on Twitter on Wednesday. “If we had known we would separate after 25 years of marriage, we would do it all again,” Bezos wrote in the joint statement. But one has to ask, would he also do it again without a prenup?
Several news sources have also reported that Bezos, 54, is already in a relationship with Good Day L.A. co-host Lauren Sanchez, 49, the soon-to-be ex-wife of Hollywood talent mogul Patrick Whitesell. Bezos apparently started seeing Sanchez during the trial separation he referred to in his tweet. According to Page Six, Bezos and his wife celebrated their 25-year wedding anniversary at the LIV nightclub in Miami in September, where they were apparently “definitely still together.” “By late October, the multibillionaire was seen at the private Casa Tua club with a different woman who looked a lot like Sanchez,” Page Six reports.
Bezos, at least at the moment, is at least feigning optimism. “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,” he said in his Twitter announcement. “Though the labels might be different, we remain a family, and we remain cherished friends.”
Good luck with that.