Gates Divorce and Separation

Bill and Melinda Gates have announced their divorce after 27 years of marriage, saying "we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple".

The pair tweeted, "After a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage”.              They first met in the 1980s when Melinda joined Bill's Microsoft firm.

The couple have three children and jointly run the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Bill Gates, 65, is the fourth wealthiest person in the world, according to Forbes, and is worth $124bn (£89bn).

According to US media reports, Bill and Melinda Gates agreed how to divide their property and assets before announcing their divorce, reportedly signing a separation contract outlining how their estate would be split. But they did not sign a pre-nuptial agreement before their wedding in 1994.

The couple filed for divorce at a court in Seattle, according to documents obtained by a number of US media outlets and published by the TMZ website.

"This marriage is irretrievably broken," the petition for divorce states. "We ask the court to dissolve our marriage." This is similar to England and Wales where the sole ground for divorce is irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.

It says the couple's property, business interests and assets should be divided "as set forth in our separation contract". That contract, however, has not been made public.

All very well for billionaires but can a couple in England and Wales agree a division of their assets before filing for divorce. The answer is “yes”. A couple can have a deed of separation setting out how their estate should be divided. Crucially there needs to be mutual full and frank financial disclosure. When it comes to the divorce, once decree nisi has been pronounced, the parties would ask the court to approve a draft order, made by consent, enshrining the terms of the separation deed. The court would consider this alongside mutual financial disclosure and, assuming that it considered the terms fair, would exercise its discretion and approve the draft order.

With no fault divorce due to be introduced in this jurisdiction this autumn, we may see more couples agreeing financial terms before their divorce is concluded. Under the new regime, once one or both of the parties states at the outset that the marriage is over there is then a minimum 20-week period before a conditional divorce order (replacing the current decree nisi) and a further six weeks for the final order (replacing decree absolute).

Tony Roe,  Head of Family Law; Family Arbitrator.