Don’t cry for Jeff Bezos.
The CEO and president of Amazon could soon be relinquishing his “richest man in the world” title after announcing he and his wife, novelist MacKenzie Bezos, are ending their 25-year marriage. But even if he does end up losing half his money, he’ll still be the fourth richest man on the planet.
Jeff Bezos’ fortune is estimated at $137 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire Index. Because Washington State — where the couple owns a home and where Amazon is headquartered — is a “community property state,” all assets acquired after the date of marriage are considered community property. That means MacKenzie Bezos could stand to get half of that fortune in a divorce settlement.
In the days following the Bezos’ announcement, the National Enquirer published a series of articles saying the couple had been separated for months and the Amazon CEO had been having an affair with news anchor and former “Good Day L.A.” co-host, Lauren Sanchez. A prenuptial agreement would supersede community-property laws. But gossip site TMZ reported Thursday that the couple did not have one.
One possibility is that both people would end with roughly $68.5 billion each.
In that scenario, Jeff Bezos’ ranking among Bloomberg’s richest billionaires would drop to No. 4, sandwiched between Bernard Arnault, the chairman and chief executive officer of luxury-goods company LVMH with $72.6 billion, and Spanish billionaire Amancio Ortega, founder and former chairman of Inditex fashion group, best known for its chain of Zara clothing, who is worth an estimated 62.2 billion.
If you’re more a Forbes-list kind of person, Bezos would actually drop to No. 6, between Ortega (which Forbes estimates at $70 billion) and Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim (deemed by Forbes to have $67.1 billion).
Meanwhile, MacKenzie Bezos would become the richest woman in the world, surpassing L’Oreal heiress Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, whose fortune is estimated at about $45.7 billion and ranks 11th on Bloomberg’s billionaire list.
But, according to Steve Mindel, a family-law attorney in Los Angeles who works with high-profile clients, there is another option which could keep Jeff Bezos at the top of the list.
“They could continue to hold their stock block in Amazon as one unit, which will probably result in them both being the wealthiest man and woman in the world,” Mindel told TheWrap. “Just because it’s community property doesn’t mean they have to split it.”
Mindel said that the couple could come up with some sort of “mechanism” that will allow them to continue to hold their shares and voting block — 16.3 percent, according to CNBC.
If the couple does decide to split their assets, MacKenzie could become the largest Amazon shareholder other than Jeff Bezos. And — here’s a little something to blow your mind — she could ostensibly become even richer than her husband, if her lawyers can negotiate an alimony deal.
“There is a chance she would be awarded alimony in addition to half of the community property,” Kelly Chang Rickert, a prenuptial agreement specialist based in Los Angeles, told TheWrap. “If that’s the case, then yeah, she could make more than him, at least temporarily.”
Spousal support is designed to ensure that the lesser-earning spouse is able to live in accordance with their marital lifestyle.
“Theoretically, it’s possible that one half of $140 billion would be insufficient to allow somebody to maintain their marital lifestyle,” celebrity divorce lawyer Stephanie Blum told TheWrap, “but can you even imagine how much money you’d have to spend every month to not have enough?”
Unlikely, but it could happen.
When Illinois’ richest man, billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, and his wife Anne Dias settled their divorce in 2015, she demanded $1 million a month for living expenses (terms of the settlement were not made public, so it’s unclear if she got it).
According to court filings obtained by CNN, Dias’ budget was based on living expenses that included $300,000 for a monthly private jet, $160,000 for travel expenses and $14,000 for both groceries and eating out.
Patrick Dubbert, who divorced Walmart heiress Paige Laurie, requested $400,000 a month in alimony for essentials such as $60,000 a month rent, $10,000 a month in furniture and $6,700 for a personal chef.
“The judge is probably going to say no,” Rickert said. “You have $60 billion and you can live off just the interest. But because a lot of the wealth is an Amazon stock options, it’s not real money. Given the fact that it’s traded, I do think that spousal support is a real possibility.”