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Bezos Split Illustrates High Net Worth Divorce Issues

While the recent Twitter post said the split was amicable, Amazon titan Jeff Bezos and his wife of 25 years, MacKenzie, still announced what our Monmouth County divorce attorneys believe likely be the costliest divorce in American history.

undefinedThe couple has four children. They met in the early 1990s while both worked at D.E. Shaw, a New York hedge fund, before moving to Seattle, where they lived in a rented one-bedroom apartment for the next decade while Jeff Bezos founded Amazon as one of the first online book retailers.

Today, Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world, with a Forbes estimated net worth of $137 billion. That includes numerous high-profile business ventures in addition to Amazon, including ownership of the Washington Post. The entirety of that fortune was earned during his marriage and MacKenzie played a large role in making Amazon what it is today. TMZ reports Bezos did not have a prenuptial agreement, putting the couple’s entire fortune on the line.

As long-time divorce attorneys in Monmouth County, we’ve drafted an extensive number of prenuptial agreements. Just recently, we wrote about the importance of premarital agreements – the benefits of which can be realized by those in all tax brackets. And, as the Bezos split illustrates, these contracts often address issues couples never could have foreseen when first formalizing their unions. It’s also been our experience that prenuptial agreements, drafted at a time in the relationship when each partner views the other in the best light, tend to facilitate cleaner, more equitable property divisions compared to those approaching negotiations with decades of bitterness and baggage.

In the case of MacKenzie Bezos, given the lack of a prenuptial agreement, the length of the marriage, how comparatively little they had starting out and the fact they share four children, she’s likely to soon be among the world’s richest women, as she helped create Amazon and worked for the company during the early years.

High Net Worth Divorce in New Jersey

Our Monmouth County divorce lawyers know business owners and high net worth couples face specific challenges when divorcing, even when a split truly is as amicable as possible under the circumstances.

The Bezos’ divorce is an extreme example, as the Twitter post was enough to briefly move the U.S. stock markets. But historically, divorces of CEOs or company founders have had a major impact on public companies in some cases, including the marital breakups of Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, and Steve Wynn, founder of Wynn resorts in Las Vegas, according to the Wall Street Journal.

For owners of small and mid-sized businesses, an enterprise may not survive an ill-conceived divorce agreement. While these couples typically have the resources to start over with a reasonable standard of living, high net worth individuals face a number of common challenges:

  • Business ownership: In many cases, the preferred solution is for a business to refinance, or otherwise assume debt, so one party can cash out and walk away. When that is not feasible, operating agreements are typically forged that turn over day-to-day management to one spouse, while the other becomes a silent partner.
  • Taxes: Sales of businesses or real estate, transfer or withdraw of retirement funds, and other financial moves may have significant, even financially crippling, tax implications that must be carefully considered to avoid unnecessary destruction of wealth.
  • Valuation: Valuing real estate and businesses can have a major impact on a property-settlement agreement, as well as on taxes.
  • Debt: High net worth individuals often have very significant business and personal debt obligations. Separating a former spouse from financial responsibility for such debts is critical to reaching a proper resolution.

While the Bezos’ divorce will likely occur under the laws of Washington State, where the couple officially resides, property divisions in New Jersey divorce mandate an equitable distribution. Equitable does not necessarily mean equal. Using the Bezos divorce as an example, MacKenzie Bezos (who has published two novels during the marriage) may negotiate a much larger portion of the couple’s assets in exchange for forgoing business ownership or a share of future earnings. However, the fact that much of Jeff Bezos’ fortune is tied up in business ownership, illustrates why reaching resolution in these cases can be so challenging. Therefore, it is imperative to have an experienced divorce attorney by your side throughout the entire process. No matter how big or small, dividing a business opened during the marriage can cause hostility and be a complicated fete. We are there to make sure a fair deal is negotiated and that your livelihood is protected.

Call Rozin|Golinder Law, LLC today for a free and confidential consultation.

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