Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his wife Mackenzie Bezos are getting divorced. Foremost in everyone’s mind is, “Will Amazon.com still offer free shipping for purchases $25 and over?”.
Terrible jokes aside, this is devastating news for champions of love everlasting. Amazon is one of the biggest companies in the world, so the divorce of its founder and his wife intrigues the public.
So what’s at stake for Mr. and Mrs. Bezos?
Jeff Bezos: Win or lose, he’s still a billionaire
Jeff currently holds 16% (79 million common shares) of Amazon’s 477 million outstanding common shares. That’s 16% of the company’s $780–800 billion worth, which means his attorneys will be crunching numbers hard for a couple days. Should he be worried about anything?
He certainly does. He might especially be worried about drastically reducing his Amazon shares — which happen to be one of the most highly liquid stocks in the United States — and subsequently slashing his net worth.
Dividing stocks acquired before marriage seems fairly straightforward. After all, they’ll just be treated as separate assets and is, therefore, owned by the spouse who bought them. However, the dividends (i.e., income) earned during the marriage can complicate things. In short, it’s not that simple.
To understand how the shares will be divided, here are some key facts:
- The couple got married in 1992
- Amazon was founded in 1994 and went public in 1997
- Amazon shares were issued in 1997 when they were already married, i.e., before protecting their soon-to-be vast sums of wealth seemed like a good idea
That makes Jeff’s Amazon shares community property to be split equitably.
This brings us to a crucial point in the whole affair: a prenuptial agreement.
Would not having a prenup benefit Mrs. Bezos?
Mackenzie is married to a man whose net worth is around $138 billion (some days, it’s only around $133 billion). So prenup matters are a crucial talking point.
The fact is, she could be taking half of Jeff’s shares. She can end up being several billions richer and the two of them will still have enough to last them both and their kids several lifetimes.
Let’s now parse the juicier (and to some of you, more important) matters: Did Jeff cheat on her? Some reports claim that he did. Nowadays, however, the truth depends on the publications you prefer to read. The veracity of news reports is increasingly becoming a choose-your-own-adventure situation. But we digress.
Suppose he did cheat. Does that mean Mackenzie should be adequately compensated? Not so. Washington is a no-fault state for divorce, which means courts neither punish the spouse for marital misconduct nor reward a spouse for being wronged. But there are exceptions that typically affect how child custody decisions are made.
No matter what happens, she’ll still end up the world’s richest divorcée.
What about Amazon shareholders?
They should relax. Amazon shares haven’t moved since the couple tweeted about their divorce.
The only time Amazon shareholders should be rattled is if the two start hurtling insults on Twitter, which would signify that their separation will be lengthy and expensive. Such a scenario would necessitate costly settlements and ultimately affect share price, as in the case of billionaire Steve Wynn and his ex-wife Elaine, whose split diminished Wynn Resorts share price.
In other words, it’s a sad time for the Bezos family, but just another day for Amazon stockholders.
The fact is, the Bezos divorce may be as quick and painless as an Amazon delivery. Obviously, it can’t be a same-day divorce because there’s no such thing. This split may be fast for the simple reason that they’re insanely rich and smart enough to know that getting it over with as efficiently as possible is the way to go.
We should know. Efficient marriage dissolution lawyering in Washington — that’s the Buckingham, LaGrandeur & Williams specialty.