Bill, Melinda Gates Split After 27 Years of Marriage

Published May 4th, 2021 - 05:33 GMT
Bill and Melinda Gates
Bill and Melinda Gates (Shutterstock)
Bill, 64, and Melinda, 56, announced their split after 27 years of marriage via Twitter on Monday. 

Melinda Gates described her marriage to Bill Gates as 'irretrievably broken' in a divorce petition which revealed she and the Microsoft founder, who is the fourth richest man in the world with a fortune of about $130billion, did not sign a prenuptial agreement.  

Bill, 64, and Melinda, 56, announced their split after 27 years of marriage via Twitter on Monday. 

Court documents obtained by showed the couple do not have a prenuptial agreement to help them navigate dividing their wealth - which includes properties in five states, a private jet, an astonishing art collection and a fleet of luxury cars. 

The documents, which were filed by Melinda, came to light after the couple's eldest daughter revealed their family has been going through a 'challenging stretch of time'. 

Jennifer Gates, 25, spoke out about the divorce announcement on Instagram on Monday afternoon, writing: 'I'm still learning how to best support my own process and emotions as well as my family members at this time and am grateful for the space to do so.' 

Jennifer is the oldest of Bill and Melinda's three children, followed by 21-year-old son Rory and 18-year-old daughter Phoebe.   

Bill and Melinda both posted the same joint statement about their divorce on Twitter, which read: '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.' 

The announcement comes less than two weeks after they made their last public appearance, virtually, at a COVID event for healthcare workers. 

Bill was already a billionaire he married Melinda in the early 1990s. He founded Microsoft in 1975 and became the world's youngest billionaire in 1987 at the age of 31. He also met Melinda that year when she was working at the company where he served as CEO. 

They married six years later but he deliberated over it and, according to previous interviews given by Melinda, even made a list of pros and cons for marriage on a whiteboard. 

The reason behind their split after over a quarter-century remains a mystery but Melinda has previously suggested her husband had trouble balancing work and family. 

In the divorce petition, which was filed in Superior Court of Washington - King County on Monday, Melinda asked the judge to dissolved the marriage 'on the date stated in our separation contract'. The separation contract was not included in the filing so that date is unclear.  

In the absence of the pre-nuptial agreement, the only agreement pertaining to the divorce is the separation contract.  

Melinda did not ask for any spousal support but requested a trial date in April 2022. However it is likely the divorce will be settled without a trial.  

The petition states that finances pertaining to the couple's two children are addressed in the separation contract. The document was signed by both Bill and Melinda, as well as their attorneys. 

Both Bill and Melinda hired powerhouse law firms to assist in the divorce. Melinda is represented by a team of four New York based attorneys from two separate firms: Cohen Clair Lane Griefer Thorpe & Rottenstreich LLP and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. 

Bill is represented by three Los Angeles-based attorneys from Munger Tolles & Olson. One of the attorneys, Charles T Munger, is a longtime partner of Bill's billionaire friend Warren Buffett. 

The Gates' divorce, though one of the most expensive in history, is not the most expensive. 

That title goes to Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder who split his $150billion fortune with his wife MacKenzie in 2019 after his affair with Lauren Sanchez was revealed.

They, unlike Bezos, are both part of The Giving Pledge - a collection of the world's richest people who have all vowed to devote at least half of their fortunes to charity. 

In 2000 they founded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation - the most influential private foundation in the worth with an endowment work nearly $50billion.  

Over the last year the foundation has focused on the development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines around the world. 

As of December, the foundation had committed a total of $1.75billion to the global pandemic response. 

In their statement on Monday, the Gates vowed to continue that work together after their split. 

The couple met in 1987 when Melinda was working at Microsoft as a project manager and was seated next to Gates at a business dinner.   

Melinda described the meeting in her 2019 biography The Moment of Lift, writing: 'I showed up late, and all the tables were filled except one, which still had two empty chairs side by side. I sat in one of them. A few minutes later, Bill arrived and sat in the other.'

After a year of dating, Bill made a list of the pros and cons of getting married.  

'You know, we cared a lot for each other and there were only two possibilities: either, we were going to break up or we were going to get married,' Bill said in a Netflix documentary about his life. 

She has playfully told how he made a pros and cons lift of whether or not they should get married on a whiteboard. They eventually tied the knot on a golf course on the Hawaiian island of Lanai in 1994, and welcomed their first child together, Jennifer, in 1996.  

In 2019, shortly after their 25th wedding anniversary, Melinda gave a rare interview to The Sunday Times in which she revealed how Bill struggled to balance work with family. 

'We’ve just gotten to a point in life where Bill and I can both laugh about more things. 

'And, believe me, I can remember some days that were so incredibly hard in our marriage where you thought, "Can I do this?"' she said. 

In her memoir published that same year Melinda wrote about her private struggles as the wife of a public icon and stay-at-home mom with three kids. 

Bill founded Microsoft in 1975 with Paul Allen. He served as CEO until 2000 then moved into a director role while gradually scaling back his involvement to dedicate more time to philanthropy. 

He transitioned out of a day-to-day role in Microsoft in 2008 and served as chairman of the board until 2014. Last year he stepped down from the board of Microsoft entirely, as well as the board of Berkshire Hathaway.

Melinda - the daughter of an aerospace engineer and a housewife - was born Melinda Ann French in Dallas, Texas, in 1964 and attended the elite Duke University in North Carolina before joining Microsoft in 1987.  

Bill also grew up privileged in Seattle, where he was born in 1955. His father was a prominent lawyer and his mother was on the board of the financial holding companies. He dropped out of Harvard to pursue Microsoft in the 1970s. 

The couple welcomed their first child together, Jennifer, in 1996, followed by son Rory in 1999 and Phoebe in 2002.  

Bill and Melinda Gates' divorce will be the largest division of assets since Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie split in 2019.

The Gates are worth an estimated $130 billion, making them the fourth-richest people in the world, behind Bezos, Elon Musk, and French luxury goods owner Bernard Arnault. 

Should their split their fortune in half in their divorce, Bill could drop in rank to around number 17 on the Forbes billionaires' index.  

Their wealth includes several impressive real estate holdings, including their main home in Washington state and properties in California, Florida, Wyoming and Massachusetts.

In addition, they have a private jet and an astonishing art collection. He also owns a fleet of fast cars.  

Bill owns 1.37 percent of Microsoft's outstanding shares, which are worth more than $26 billion, according to CNBC. 

He stepped down from the board of Microsoft in March 2020, but remains as a technology adviser to CEO Satya Nadella.

He also makes investments through his Gates Ventures private office.

In 2015, Melinda established a new organization called Pivotal Ventures, an independent executive office. 

The idea was to allow her to pursue ideas that might not fit within the structure of the Gates Foundation.

In 2000, the couple founded The Gates Foundation, dedicated to helping some of the world's poorest people through initiatives such as eradicating polio, reducing the spread of malaria and HIV/Aids, and investing in sanitation and financial systems for those without. 

They have poured huge amounts of their own money into the Foundation, making it one of the world's largest philanthropic organizations. 

From 1994 through 2018, the couple gave the foundation more than $36billion.

In 2010 they founded The Giving Pledge, alongside Warren Buffett, and promised to give away the majority of their fortune. 

Yet, despite their The Giving Pledge and their namesake foundation, the Gates retain plenty of assets which will need to be split between them. 

Property: A $125million compound on the outskirts of Seattle, seaside mansion in San Diego and ranch getaway in Santa Fe  

Prime among the couple's properties is their main family home, known as Xanadu 2.0.

The 66,000-square-foot mansion overlooks Lake Washington in Medina, nine miles out of downtown Seattle - where The Gates Foundation has its headquarters.  

Bill purchased the lot in 1988 for $2million, but spent seven years building his dream home - at a cost of $63million. 

The construction along the picturesque lake angered some neighbors, The Washington Post reported at the time - so Bill responded with free car washes, and made his construction crew available to help with little projects at nearby homes.

The home is now worth an estimated $125 million. 

'I wanted craftsmanship but nothing ostentatious,' Bill wrote in his book, The Road Ahead, which was written from the guest house, while the main house was being constructed. 

'I wanted a house that would accommodate sophisticated, changing technology but in an unobtrusive way that made it clear that technology was the servant, not the master.'  

The home has an indoor-outdoor pool with an underwater music system and fossil designs on the floor, plus an ancient fossil imprint of a palm frond behind the diving board.

In the five-acre plot, there is an artificial stream stocked with salmon and cut-throat trout, and a beach with sand imported, according to some, from the Caribbean. 

Inside the seven bedroom mansion, with a reported 18 bathrooms, is an art deco home cinema with seating for 20, and a 1,000-square-foot dining room with seating for 24.

For larger gatherings, the 2,300 square-foot reception hall can seat 150 people for dinner, or 200 for a cocktail party. 

The 2,100-square-foot library includes two secret pivoting bookcases, one of which contains a bar.

A special nook has been constructed to display one of Bill's most prized possessions - a scientific notebook kept by Leonardo da Vinci in the early 1500s, called the Codex.

Bill bought it at auction in 1994 for $30 million. 

On the ceiling is engraved a quote from The Great Gatsby: 'He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it.'

There are four rare copies of the book in his library, The Washington Post reported. 

Guests at the property, according to Seattle Curbed, are giving a pin to wear on arrival, with sensors. 

Depending on their preferences, the temperature, music and lighting will change in the house. 

Each room comes with its own touchpad to control the room environment. 

'I have a nice house,' Bill said in a February 2019 'Ask Me Anything' forum on Reddit. 

'It includes a trampoline room which seems kind of over the top, but my kids love using it to work off their excess energy. 

'I am not sure how guilty I should feel about being in a great house.' 

It is not his only great house.

The Gates also own a $59 million ranch in Wellington, Florida - an area known for its equestrianism, which will appeal to his eldest daughter Jennifer, a talented horsewoman.

Wellington, described by The Real Deal as the winter equestrian capital of the world, is the seasonal playground for the families of a number of billionaires – Michael Bloomberg, the late Steve Jobs, the Campbell’s Soup family, and celebrities whose children compete in horse riding competitions.

The family also own the Irma Lake Lodge, a $9 million, 492-acre Wyoming ranch Buffalo Bill named after his oldest daughter back when he settled the place in 1902.

Bill bought the property in 2009.

According to the realtor's description, obtained by Insider: 'The ranch lies adjacent to Shoshone National Forest and nearby Washakie Wilderness, which gives this property a backyard of over three million acres containing continuous wilderness and forest lands.'

In addition to the main 15,000-square-foot house with its five bedrooms and three bathrooms, there is a guesthouse, caretaker's house, dairy cabin, Buffalo Bill stable and a rustic hut on the island located in the middle of Irma Lake.

Perched on a knoll is is Buffalo Bill’s original three-room hunting cabin - not fit for habitation, and kept in its original state.

The land is home to elk, moose, Mule deer, Bighorn sheep, bear, mountain lion, wolves, bobcats, wolverines and lynx.

The couple have two homes in California - the 228-acre Rancho Paseana, which he purchased for $18 million in September 2014 from diet queen Jenny Craig. 

It includes a racetrack, orchard, and five barns with space for 50 horses.

He bought another $43 million property in California near San Diego, closing the deal in April 2020.

The luxurious six-bedroom, four-bathroom, 5,800-square-foot home was sold by Madeleine Pickens, a former wife of the billionaire oil baron T. Boone Pickens.  

According to the listing details, obtained by The Real Deal, the house is well-known as a city landmark and is considered 'one of the most prominent coastal contemporary beach homes on the West Coast.' It has 120 feet of private ocean frontage.

Farmland: Nearly 200,000 acres across five states 

In addition to his five homes, Bill has quietly built up a massive agriculture portfolio. 

The 65-year-old's largest holdings include 69,071 acres in Louisiana, 47,927 acres in Arkansas, 25,750 acres in Arizona, 20,588 acres in Nebraska and 16,097 in Washington state. 

But even with his big new agricultural holdings, Bill still doesn't rank in the Top 100 of private landowners overall in the U.S. - when considering owners of land of all types, not just agricultural. 

The title for largest landholdings overall goes to US businessman John Malone, chairman of Liberty Media, who owns 2.2million acres.   

It is unclear why Bill, better known as a self-confessed computing 'nerd', has invested in farmland so heavily, and details of the land are scarce, as revealed in The Land Report. 

The acquisitions are held directly, as well as through Bill's personal investment entity, Cascade Investments.

Cars: A garage for 30 vehicles filled with a Porsche 930 Turbo, Jaguar XJ6 and Ferrari 348 

Bill is known for his love of cars - his Seattle home has a garage with space for 30 vehicles.

He told Ellen DeGeneres in February 2018 that his biggest splurge after founding Microsoft was buying a Porsche 911 supercar, which he later sold.  

'That was an indulgence,' Bill told DeGeneres.

The car, which he bought when Microsoft was based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, wasn't just for show: Bill loved to put its speed to the test and race it in the desert. 

His partner Paul Allen once had to bail him out of jail after one particularly reckless ride. 

Bill is also the owner of a Porsche 930 Turbo, a Jaguar XJ6 and a Ferrari 348.

His most valuable car is believed to be an extremely rare Porsche 959 - only several hundred were ever made - that he had to wait 13 years for while its arrival was held up by customs into the U.S. It even required the passage of a special law, the Show or Display Rule, to allow its use in the country.

They will sell for up to $2 million at auction.

Bill's most recent purchase, he said in February 2020, was a Porsche Taycan - an electric car.

'I have to say it's a premium-priced car, but it is very, very cool,' Bill said in a YouTube interview

'That's my first electric car, and I'm enjoying it a lot.' 

Bill and Melinda Gates' decades-long relationship began with a shared passion for puzzles, problem-solving and math games - however it seems the riddle of how to save their 27-year marriage it one that neither could solve.  

Their marriage, which they only decided to embark on in 1994 after Bill had completed an extensive pros and cons list on a whiteboard in his bedroom, seems to have come to an end in much the same way that it started - with a measured discussion about the positives and negatives. 

In their statement, the couple noted that they have done 'a lot of work on their relationship' - during which they welcomed three children together, launched a charity foundation, and amassed a shared fortune of $130billion, largely through his technology company Microsoft.  

It was that same company that brought the two together in the first place, after Melinda was hired as a product manager in 1987 - the only woman to be chosen from the company's first intake of MBA graduates.  

The couple's romance began after they were seated next to each other at a business dinner in New York City. According to Melinda, they 'talked over dinner that evening' and she could 'sense he was interested', and a few days later when they bumped into each other in the company parking lot, he asked her out - although his initial offer wasn't up to her standards. 

'He struck up a conversation and asked me out for two weeks from Friday,' she revealed in her 2019 book, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World. 

'I laughed and said: "That’s not spontaneous enough for me. Ask me out closer to the date," and gave him my number.'

Refusing to be deterred by her initial rebuttal, Bill phoned Melinda two hours later and asked her to go out with him that same evening, jokingly asking whether such a short-notice date was 'spontaneous enough for her'.  

Melinda recalled how the couple bonded over a shared love of 'puzzles' and their competitive natures, writing: 'We found we had a lot in common. We both love puzzles, and we both love to compete. So we had puzzle contests and played math games.

'I think he got intrigued when I beat him at a math game and won the first time we played Clue, the board game where you figure out who did the murder in what room with what weapon. He urged me to read The Great Gatsby, his favorite novel, and I already had, twice. 

'Maybe that’s when he knew he’d met his match. His romantic match, he would say. When we got engaged, someone asked Bill: "How does Melinda make you feel?" and he answered: "Amazingly, she makes me feel like getting married."' 

However Bill's proposal was not a decision that he took lightly - quite the opposite in fact - and it was not one that either of them had expected him to have to make so soon after that first date. 

During a 2019 Netflix documentary about the Microsoft founder, Inside Bill's Brain, the couple revealed that they were not entirely serious about their romance in the first few months; Melinda actually dated several other people in the early days of their relationship, while the 'other woman' in Bill's life was his beloved computer company. 

'She had other boyfriends, and I had Microsoft,' Bill said. 'We were like, "Hey we are not really serious about each other, are we? We are not going to demand each other’s time."'

Melinda agreed: 'I was new to Microsoft, there were a lot of men there and... you are still looking around.' 

Both admitted that they were somewhat surprised to realize that they had fallen in love, however it was in that moment when they professed those feelings for one another that they knew they had to make a decision about whether or not their relationship would lead to an engagement and marriage, or whether they should simply end it then and there. 

'Sort of to our surprise, certainly my surprise, we said, "Hey, I love you,"' Bill recalled of the moment, which occurred one year into their relationship. 'And she said she loved me and then it was like, "Wow, and now what is going to happen."' 

For Bill, it was not a question of whether or not he wanted to be with Melinda, but more a question of whether he was actually capable of becoming a husband, while also remaining focused on building his tech empire. 

'[He] wanted to be married, but he didn't know whether he could actually commit to it and [still run] Microsoft,' Melinda explained in the Netflix documentary. 'He had to make a decision...' 

Referring back to the problem-solving skills that had first sparked his interest in Melinda, Bill decided to pursue the most logical solution to that question - by completing a pros and cons list, laying out all of the negative and positive aspects of a potential marriage on a whiteboard in his bedroom, which Melinda actually caught him filling in.   

Although neither have divulged the exact specifics of Bill's list, it seems the pros outweighed the cons, and they got engaged soon after - although they didn't actually tie the knot until several years later, in a beautiful ceremony held in Lanai, Hawaii. 

Even during the wedding, Bill's logical side took over, with Melinda recalling on Instagram when marking their 25th anniversary how he 'did some astonishingly quick math to calculate' how they should cut the cake so that all of their guests got the same size slice. 

Less than two years after their wedding, Melinda discovered she was pregnant with their first child - daughter Jennifer, now 25 - and she found herself faced with a similar question that her husband had answered with his pros and cons list: could she, and would she want to, balance her career at Microsoft with her role as a mother. 

At the time, Melinda says Microsoft was a 'huge part' of the couple's 'life together' - so much so that she actually considered not telling her husband about their pregnancy until days after she found out about it, because they were about to leave for a rare vacation, and she wanted him to be able to relax. 

'In 1995, after Bill and I had been married nearly two years and were about to leave on a trip to China, I discovered I was pregnant,' she wrote in her book. 'This China trip was a huge deal for us. Bill rarely took time off from Microsoft, and we were going with other couples as well.

'I didn’t want to mess up the trip, so I considered not telling Bill I was pregnant until we came back. For a day and a half, I thought, I’ll just save the news. Then I realized: "No, I’ve got to tell him because what if something goes wrong? And, more basically, I’ve got to tell him because it’s his baby, too."

'When I sat Bill down for the baby talk one morning before work, he had two reactions. He was thrilled about the baby, and then he said: "You considered not telling me? Are you kidding?"' 

Melinda shocked her husband even more when she announced that she would no longer keep working after giving birth - a decision that she says left Bill horrified.  

'He was stunned,' she recalled, revealing that he simply responded: 'What do you mean, you’re not going back?’

'And I said: "We’re lucky enough not to need my income. So this is about how we want to raise a family. You’re not going to downshift at work, and I don’t see how I can put in the hours I need to do a great job at work and raise a family at the same time."'

Over the next decade, the couple welcomed two more children; their son Rory, now 21, followed by a second daughter Phoebe, now 18. 

Although Melinda did not return to work at Microsoft, the couple did put their heads together professionally again in 2000, when they set up their non-profit, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is now said to be the largest private foundation in the world. 

The focus of the foundation is to improve healthcare, increase education, and tackle poverty across the globe.  

When the non-profit was set up, Bill stepped down as the CEO of Microsoft and moved into a director role, giving up his control of day-to-day operations so that he could focus more of his energy on the couple's philanthropy.   

But while the relationship might have seemed idyllic on the surface - courtesy of the couple's sprawling homes, lavish vacations, and many public charitable endeavors - behind the scenes, Melinda admits that they had to work incredibly hard to make their marriage work, and to ensure that their extravagant wealth didn't negatively impact their children. 

Shortly after giving birth to Jennifer, Melinda says she felt incredibly 'alone' because her husband was spending so much of his time working, leaving her to take on the majority of the parenting duties by herself, and she admits she questioned whether he was actually invested in fatherhood. 

'When we first had Jenn, I felt very alone in our marriage,' she explained in her book. 'Bill was CEO of Microsoft at the time. He was beyond busy; everyone wanted him, and I was thinking, "OK, maybe he wanted to have kids in theory, but not in reality."'

Over the years however, the couple worked together to carve out 'equal' roles - and to turn their marriage into a 'partnership', that saw them both taking on their fair share of childcare, including Bill offering to drive their daughter Jennifer to school several days a week, because it meant spending more than two hours in the car every day.    

This article has been adapted from its original source.

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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