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Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos divorce: will Amazon be concerned?

Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, are divorcing after 25 years of marriage. The couple announced the divorce in a joint statement posted to Bezos’ Twitter account on Wednesday morning.

Bezos, the richest person in the world according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index, is currently worth around $137 billion. He founded Amazon shortly after marrying MacKenzie, whom he would have met while working for the New York-based hedge fund DE Shaw. Soon after, the couple moved to Seattle, where Bezos started Amazon in a garage. According to a 1996 Wall Street Journal Profile, MacKenzie was behind the wheel as they made the cross-country trip. According to the joint statement, the breakup was amicable and they plan to “continue our lives together as friends.”

This does not mean that divorce will not be expensive. CNBC says it could be the “most expensive” divorce in history, in part because of Washington state divorce laws. Washington is a “community property state,” which means that all property (and debt) accrued during a marriage is divided equally by the court if the couple cannot negotiate an agreement.

In Bezos’ case, that could mean MacKenzie is entitled to half his fortune, or $69 billion, but only if the two men can’t agree on a settlement on their own. This would make MacKenzie the richest woman in the world, but Bezos would no longer be the richest person in the world. That title would go to Bill Gates, whose net worth is estimated at $92.5 billion.

As CNBC points out, a settlement of this magnitude would force Bezos to sell some of his 80 million Amazon shares, which would dilute his ownership and control of the company. According to Recodesplitting the assets this way would mean Bezos would own 8.15% of the company, but he would still own more than second-largest shareholder Vanguard, which held 5.8% of the company’s shares in 2017.

Bezos’ reduced stake in Amazon would also have a symbolic meaning: he has been the face of the company since its inception in 1996. Amazon’s origin story is intertwined with Bezos, who claims he was tired of hedge fund life and risked everything to pursue a passion project out west, where he built the world’s most valuable business from his garage.

Either way, CNBC says a 50-50 split is unlikely because reducing Bezos’ ownership of Amazon would ultimately prevent Bezos and MacKenzie from acquiring more wealth.

The settlement could also depend on whether or not the Bezos sign a prenuptial agreement. Although they met and married before Amazon was founded, Jeff and MacKenzie were still working at a hedge fund at the time – their net worth wasn’t close to $137 billion then, but it’s possible that they still signed a marriage contract.

If the statement announcing the divorce is any indication, agreeing to a settlement may not be a problem. “We’ve had such a great life together as a married couple,” the couple wrote, “and we also see a wonderful future ahead of us, as partners, friends, partners in businesses and projects, and as than individuals pursuing businesses and adventures.”