04 May 2021

Analysis: The $130billion divorce of Bill & Melinda Gates

Analysis: The $130billion divorce of Bill & Melinda Gates

Bill and Melinda Gates, one of the world's richest couples with a fortune of $130billion, are getting divorced - with Melinda saying the marriage is 'irretrievably broken' in divorce filings.

Bill, 64, and Melinda, 56, met in 1987 - the same year he became the world's youngest billionaire at the age of 31.

While the couple have no pre-nuptial agreement, it appears a lot of the work of dividing up their vast estate, which includes property, jets and art, has already been done, with divorce papers repeatedly referring  to a 'separation contract' which both have signed.

What is a separation contract?

A separation contract – commonly known as a separation agreement in Scotland – is a legal contract which allows separating couples to resolve matters on an amicable basis, without involving the courts.

It can regulate a wide range of matters, including the care arrangements for children, child maintenance, the payment of school fees and other child related costs, payment of bills, transfer or sale of property, transfer of business assets/shareholdings, pension sharing and the allocation of matrimonial assets/liability for matrimonial debts.

Ruth Aberdein, Head of Family Law at Aberdein Considine explains: “Separation agreements are very commonly entered into in Scotland and are legally binding on the separating couple.

“The agreements are registered and they serve to extinguish rights and claims available on divorce and death.

“We offer comprehensive advice to clients  on their responsibilities, rights and options on separation/divorce and seek to  assist them in negotiating fair and reasonable settlements.”

Resolving the financial elements of separation can be a daunting task, but the process can be made more manageable with expert legal advice.

Indeed, we would caution against making any significant decisions in relation to financial matters arising from separation without first taking legal advice, as doing so may be contrary to your interests and any steps taken may be difficult to redress. 

What if a couple cannot agree an amicable split?

The Family Law (Scotland) Act 1985 provides a framework for Courts when making decisions relating to financial provision on divorce and dissolution of civil partnerships.

The overriding principle is that there should be a ‘fair sharing’ of the net value of matrimonial and partnership property. Of course ‘fair’ can mean different things in different circumstances.  No two cases are the same and the financial issues will be different for every couple. 

Where it is not possible to reach agreement on the financial aspects of separation though negotiation, orders for financial provision can be sought through the courts. Such orders will only be granted if they are considered to be ‘justified’ by the principles of fairness contained within the 1985 act and ‘reasonable’ having regard to resources. Such orders include:

  • An order for payment of a capital sum
  • An order for transfer of property
  • An order for payment of periodical allowance (ongoing financial support)
  • A pension sharing order
  • An order for the sale of property
  • An order regulating liability for outgoings in respect of the matrimonial home

Early expert family law advice is essential to ensure that you are fully informed prior to making decision which may have significant implications in the longer term.

Speak to our Family Law team

If you would like to speak to one of our family lawyers about your circumstances, click here.

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