When we were contacted by reporters regarding the Bezos divorce, one of the main questions we were asked was about how property might end up being divided.
I do not have a great deal of information about their marriage specifically, but I ran down the considerations for the reporters the same way I might for any divorce.
An initial question should be whether there is a prenuptial agreement.
If the couple made a pre-nuptial agreement before marriage, or a post nuptial agreement after marriage, this may change the property division rules for that couple from what would normally happen under Washington State law.
When there is a business ownership involved, a second question is whether the business was started before or after the marriage.
If it was started before the marriage, the business may in fact be separate property. However, even in that case, there may be a community interest in that separate property based on increases in the value due to community investments in the business; did the couple put money into the business after marriage?
This can even include putting community labor into the business during the marriage – was the spouse actively working in the business during the marriage, and did that work increase the value of the business?
The next question is whether there are factors that might lead to an unequal division of property.
For instance, if one party has significant separate property, or a high ongoing income, the other might be awarded a larger share of the community property.
In a long term marriage in particular, the court is most concerned with sending both parties forward in similar economic situations. This can lead in some cases where there are large separate assets to even giving some of the separate property to the other spouse.
Another factor that can affect the property division is spousal support. Since spousal support can help to balance the financial position of the spouses, it may be a reason for the property division to be more equal than it might be without spousal support.
The issues involved in the Bezos divorce property division are not very different from cases we handle for our clients every day. With extremely large amounts of property at stake, it is even more important that the process is handled with great care, but the concepts are ultimately the same.
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