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Messy divorce? Bill and Melinda Gates prove this doesn’t always have to be the case…

The announcement on Twitter of Bill and Melinda Gates’ divorce signifies the biggest divorce since Jeff Bezos’ in 2019. With an estimated combined wealth of $130 billion, including three properties, one of which is a huge ranch style home in Seattle worth $124 million, it will be no mean feat to share the finances. But the couple appear to have resolved all their issues in advance of filing for divorce, with the divorce papers referencing a “separation agreement”. But how common is this?

Separation agreements are very common here in Scotland. In fact, this is the way the majority of couples structure a division of their assets on separation and divorce. Whether couples instruct lawyers to negotiate for them, or embark on a collaborative process or use mediation, the aim in each process is to come to an agreement on the division of the assets, childcare, any spousal maintenance or child maintenance and have that agreement committed to writing in a legally binding form. In Scotland these agreements, known as Minutes of Agreements or Separation Agreements are fully binding and enforceable so long as they were entered into by both parties freely and they were fair and reasonable. The benefits are huge for a lot of couples. It allows them absolute freedom to structure the division in a way that suits them as a family. It also gives couples control and the opportunity to take into account factors that perhaps a court couldn’t do, or wouldn’t have the power to do.

One example we often refer to is that of ‘the lemon’. There is one lemon and both parties want it so it seems fair to cut that lemon in half to share it: that’s fair. But is it best for this family? One wanted the rind to make marmalade, and one wanted the juice to make lemonade, was there a better way to divide the lemon? That’s where Separation Agreements come into play.

Going to court involves a huge amount of uncertainty as to the outcome and while matters will be resolved once and for all, it may be by orders which neither party are wholly happy with. A separation agreement can be negotiated privately, and can be kept out of the public domain. It can also reduce the amount of legal fees since court actions are notoriously expensive and can involve several contested hearings and preparatory work with the leading of evidence.

Bill and Melinda Gates have been married for 27 years and have three children together, the youngest of whom is 18 years old. They have always led rather private lives, despite their staggering wealth and the media’s interest in them. The way they are conducting their divorce seems no different. By keeping their divorce out of the courts they are better prepared to resolve matters by agreement and with respect for each other, which is more likely to allow them to live their lives going forward as parents together and as business partners. In announcing their divorce they also announced that they would be continuing to work together in the Bill and Melinda Foundation, which is admirable. An amicable divorce can be achievable if you take the right advice.