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In Splitting Assets, the Bezos Divorce Reveals Biases Against Stay-at-Home Partners

Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive officer of Amazon.com Inc., with estranged wife MacKenzie Bezos in 2013.

The Bezos divorce has been the subject of much discussion in the media, making it by far one of the most-talked-about divorces thus far in 2019. Headlines have varied from “How Much Could Wife of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos Get in Divorce?” (Inside Edition) to “How Much Could MacKenzie Bezos Get in a Divorce?” (CNBC). However, are these headlines fair, or are they bias against “C-Suite” and stay-at-home spouses?

There is no doubt that many expectations are placed on “C-Suite” spouses. While “C-Suite” spouses may not work in a traditional office, they contribute to their spouse’s personal success and the accompanying business ventures’ success.

Marriage often tasks C-Suite spouses with holding down responsibilities at the home and managing the day-to-day activities of the family while the other spouse is traveling or working long hours. Publicity often subjects C-Suite spouses to the constant pressure of living their life in the spotlight and the scrutiny of the public eye. Without the support of his or her spouse, C-Suite level employees arguably would not be able to entirely focus on his or her business venture or personal success.

Generally, marriages are partnerships, and spouses typically divide the household responsibilities between one another. While one spouse is concentrating on one duty, the other spouse is able to focus on another obligation. So, in reality, both spouses are contributing to the success of the marriage, including the raising of a family, the accumulation of assets and growth of the community estate.

Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos were married 25 years ago, before Amazon was even a legal entity. In 1994, when Jeff developed the idea of Amazon, MacKenzie fully supported the venture. She and Jeff both uprooted their careers and moved to Seattle, where Amazon began. They lived in a one-bedroom apartment and lived a frugal lifestyle while pursuing Amazon’s success. In fact, MacKenzie was one of the first employees of Amazon, where she was an accountant.

Both Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos were 100 percent invested in the success of Amazon and its future. Even when MacKenzie stopped working at Amazon to pursue her dream as a writer, she continued to be a hands-on mother to the four Bezos children. It is reported that until 2013, MacKenzie still drove their four kids to school and then dropped Jeff off at work. Therefore, both parties accomplished their responsibilities to their marriage and partnership.

The Bezos’ divorce is likely to be filed and finalized in Washington state, where community property is divided on a “fair and equitable” basis and likely relatively close to a 50-50 split of community assets. According to Bloomberg data, the Bezos’ fortune includes a 16 percent share of Amazon stock (approximately $129 billion) and nearly $2.5 billion in cash. Most of the Bezos’ estate is likely to be deemed community property as Jeff and MacKenzie acquired Amazon stock during their marriage.

It is unfair and inaccurate to phrase the division of the Bezos’ assets as: “How much will MacKenzie get from the divorce?” because the Bezos’ built their community estate on the shoulders of both spouses, and according to prevailing law, the estate should be split fairly and equitably. MacKenzie will realistically be awarded her share of the community—Jeff is not “giving” her anything.

As a Shareholder at KoonsFuller Family Law in North Texas, Sally Pretorius’ practice focuses on divorce, including buy/sell and other entity agreements; complex property division; child custody litigation; and child support matters. She is board-certified in family law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and has received many notable accolades, including being named among The Best Lawyers in America© in family law by Best Lawyers and Co., LLC (2018), as well as honored as a 2018 Top 50 Women in Texas Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters. Visit koonsfuller.com to learn more.