If you’ve ever wondered whether millionaires & billionaires divorce differently, then you are about to find out. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, who is reported to be worth $137 billion and the world’s richest man and his wife, Mackenzie, of 25 years, have recently announced they are going to be divorcing. So how are the divorces of millionaires different from the less wealthy? Here are our top takeaways for how the top 1% divorce differently:
Millionaires have the means to employ a team of lawyers who can fight about every last dollar or pound. This doesn’t, of course, mean it’s the right thing to do! But it can be more expensive to divorce if you are very wealthy.
Millionaires, by their very nature, have many assets. This can mean they need more experts to help them to properly understand what money they have and to look at any potential legal, tax and financial implications of selling, transferring or retaining those assets. They may need a forensic accountant to value companies (if one person like Jeff Bezos runs and owns their own company). There may also be the need for expert valuers to properly value possessions like jewellery or art or other possessions of value. They may need surveyors to advise on property valuations and this may be surveyors in different countries where they own property around the world.
There is also the potential to run up HUGE legal costs if the couple involved fight it out in court about every single asset. Ultimately, Jeff Bezos and his wife could spend $40 million on legal fees (which is an astronomical amount) and still not worry about whether they will have enough money. They prefer to keep as much of their money for themselves as possible and, if so, avoiding the courts is likely to be sensible. You can bring experts into family mediation and use their help to have constructive discussions around a table rather than a debilitating courtroom battle.
Although the Bezos divorce will not take place in England, mediation is still a widely used option in the US and Canada along with many of the developments in dispute resolution in England and Wales (and Scotland although they have their own divorce laws) have been from initiatives started on the other side of the Atlantic. So whilst there are still courtroom battles a plenty, there is equally a big emphasis on amicable and constructive resolutions following a separation. Of course we’re biased but we very much hope that they chose a constructive process rather than battling it out in court.
2. Divorce and separation are often about making compromises to find a way forward you can both live with. This is very often not the most ideal way for both of you, but a way that takes into account the reality of your situation, your needs and priorities.
Millionaires still need to make compromises, but these may be on a different level from ‘folks of ordinary means’. Millionaire compromises may involve deciding whether to only retain 3 homes instead of 4. This may be an issue that people trying to find an affordable 3 bedroom house struggle to relate to! It may also mean choosing which of the luxury trappings to retain and which to let go. This can be a hard ask particularly where there is sentimental value attached to something. This could be a yacht where you have enjoyed some particular fun times or it may be the first supercar that was purchased when your company made its first million. There may also be items that you both consider to have huge sentimental value to you.
Most people may have to compromise at this point if they do not have the legal fees to fight about things. Where money is not particularly an issue, there is scope for the two people involved to spend more money on fighting about something than it is actually worth. We would always caution against this approach because it often makes both sides feel there is even more at stake. Often talking about what it is that makes you want to retain an item and what it means to you can be a more helpful way forward so that you can understand each other’s view point and try to find a compromise.
3. The other way that millionaire divorces can be different is with such huge means you don’t have to have any concerns about paying for assistance to help you to heal following the separation. We talk a lot about the importance of getting the right help at the right time to help you move forward. This can often be some form of therapeutic help. It might be a counsellor or more short term help from say a divorce coach.
You may also benefit from taking time out for yourself and undertaking complementary therapies such as an aromatherapy massage, reiki or reflexology. Where people have limited means, they can often be concerned about the costs of doing this when they are already paying lawyers or mediators. With pretty much unlimited means you are able to access any service that may help you without worrying about this.
There are also reasons why millionaire divorces are the same as they are for everybody:
1.Here at LKW Family Mediation we sometimes get a bit cross about the media headlines surrounding divorce and separation. They can be downright misleading and occasionally they are plain wrong. We have repeatedly pointed out to anyone who will listen that the divorce process takes the same time for everyone and that there is no such thing as a “quickie” divorce here in the UK – whether you are a celebrity or not.
The 5 minute hearing that celebrities (nor most other people) don’t attend is the interim stage of the divorce proceedings when the Decree Nisi (which is what it’s called) is pronounced in court. Anyone can attend this hearing because it takes place in what is called ‘open court’. This process is the same for everyone in England and Wales whether you have £2 in the bank, or £2 billion.
Divorce and separation are also a good leveller in that it doesn’t matter how wealthy you are, you may still struggle to come to terms with your separation. You will still have to face up to the fact that the life you are going to live going forwards is not necessarily the one you had envisaged. You still have to deal with the reaction of any children that you have and help them to understand this. That applies to adult children as much as children under 18.
Jeff Bezos and his wife Mackenzie have four children (according to Wikipedia) and often the children of the same couple can feel the separation differently and struggle at different times. Pulling your children into your conflict will be traumatic for them regardless of how much money you have.
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