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Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos have finalized the terms of their divorce — here's what typically happens when billionaires break up

Business Insider logoBusiness Insider 04/04/2019 Hillary Hoffower
MacKenzie Bezos, Jeff Bezos are posing for a picture © Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty; Skye Gould/Business Insider

Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, and wife MacKenzie Bezos have officially finalized their divorce after 25 years of marriage. The couple, who has four children, filed for divorce in January following a trial separation.

A lot more was at stake for Bezos, the world's richest man with a reported net worth of nearly $150 billion, than there is in a typical divorce - as is often the case with high-net-worth couples.

"The major thing for billionaires is that most of the time, their assets are very complex and mostly illiquid - with Bezos, a lot of his assets are linked to Amazon stock," Jacqueline Newman, a matrimonial law attorney who is a managing partner of Berkman Bottger Newman & Rodd LLP, told Business Insider.

Jeff Bezos, left, and wife MacKenzie Bezos arrive at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party on Sunday, March 4, 2018, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP) © Evan Agostini/Invision/AP Jeff Bezos, left, and wife MacKenzie Bezos arrive at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party on Sunday, March 4, 2018, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

The Bezos' state of residence, Washington, further complicates matters for Bezos' Amazon holdings. It's a community property state, which means wealth accrued during the couple's marriage could be split in half, Karin J. Lundell, a matrimonial and trust and estate partner at Rower LLC, told Business Insider.

Such distribution could be altered if the Bezoses signed a prenuptial or a postnuptial agreement, she said: "Often, very wealthy people have prenups that lay out the division of their property. A prenup can carve out certain things and say, 'We'll divide this up.'" TMZ previously reported that the couple did not have a prenup, citing "sources with direct knowledge" of the situation.

BERLIN, GERMANY - APRIL 24: Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie Bezos attend the Axel Springer Award 2018 on April 24, 2018 in Berlin, Germany. Under the motto 'An Evening for' Jeff Bezos receives the Axel Springer Award 2018. (Photo by Franziska Krug/Getty Images) © 2018 Franziska Krug BERLIN, GERMANY - APRIL 24: Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie Bezos attend the Axel Springer Award 2018 on April 24, 2018 in Berlin, Germany. Under the motto 'An Evening for' Jeff Bezos receives the Axel Springer Award 2018. (Photo by Franziska Krug/Getty Images) In a Twitter statement on April 4, Mackenzie Bezos said she's granting Jeff Bezos all of her interests in the Washington Post and Blue Origin, and 75% of the Amazon stock co-owned by the pair and voting control over the shares she's retaining.

Her remaining stake in Amazon is estimated to be worth about $35.7 billion at current prices, making her the third-richest woman in the world, according to Forbes' list, Business Insider's Avery Hartmans reported. 

A fortune tied to company stock, like Amazon, complicates divorce for billionaire couples

Having a net worth tied to company stock is an issue billionaires like Bezos often have to contend with in a divorce. Deciding what to do can get tricky - you could transfer the stock itself, but if you do, you could lose control of the company depending on your stake, Newman said.

Jeff Bezos, left, and MacKenzie Bezos arrive at the 2018 Sean Penn J/P Haitian Relief Organization Gala at the Milk Studios on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP) © Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP Jeff Bezos, left, and MacKenzie Bezos arrive at the 2018 Sean Penn J/P Haitian Relief Organization Gala at the Milk Studios on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP) But running a company brings more issues for divorcing billionaires than the possibility of having to transfer or sell a stock to fund a settlement and possibly lose company control.

"Most of the time, it's valuation issues - how to value assets in business," Lundell said. "The publicly traded stocks are easy to value - you don't want to sell because that causes fluctuation. Business interests that are harder to value and are more complex assets, The Washington Post, we don't know the value of that." 

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie Bezos arrive at the headquarters of publisher Axel-Springer where he will receive the Axel Springer Award 2018 on April 24, 2018 in Berlin. (Photo by Jörg Carstensen / dpa / AFP) / Germany OUT        (Photo credit should read JORG CARSTENSEN/AFP/Getty Images) Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie Bezos arrive at the headquarters of publisher Axel-Springer where he will receive the Axel Springer Award 2018 on April 24, 2018 in Berlin. (Photo by Jörg Carstensen / dpa / AFP) / Germany OUT (Photo credit should read JORG CARSTENSEN/AFP/Getty Images) With assets that are hard to value and hard to liquidate, divorce proceedings can take longer because there's a more complex evaluation, according to Newman.

And for billionaires in the public eye, like Bezos, there's also the issue of how the divorce will affect the company, Newman said: "They could be distracted or emotionally charged, there could be concern about whether there will be a transfer of actual shares and who's running the company - stocks could go down."

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 26:  (L-R) CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos and  writer MacKenzie Bezos attend the Amazon Studios Oscar Celebration at Delilah on February 26, 2017 in West Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images) © 2017 Getty Images WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 26: (L-R) CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos and writer MacKenzie Bezos attend the Amazon Studios Oscar Celebration at Delilah on February 26, 2017 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images) For high-net-worth people not tied to a company, such as an actor, their public image could be just as important, Newman added.

But for Bezos, she said: "The concern is the company and the shares. That's the biggest issue. Beyond that, children are involved. When you're dealing with people of these levels, there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen, a lot of vested interest." 

Gallery: A look inside the marriage of the richest couple in history, Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos (Business Insider)

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