Over the past two decades, I have worked on several high-profile cases, including a few billionaire divorces in the DC Area. As a result, the announcement of Bill and Melinda Gates’ divorce does not come as a shock at all, but I do believe there are some great take-aways here for everyone. Here are my top five (5) points for all of us to ponder:
1. Money– While it certainly helps make life easier when you have a secure financial base, money can’t buy happiness. In fact, the more people earn the more obligations they usually take on, and this adds a level of stress and complication that perhaps 90% of the world will never fully comprehend, but the pressures are undeniably real. Ironically, the more you have the more demands you have on your time and energy, which can then take away from certain simple joys including some alone time enjoying individual hobbies or engaging with friends, family and your significant other.
2. Shared Narrative– Even though their children are all 18 or older, they know that this news will have an impact on them, and their short public announcement was a perfect example of all you need to share with the world (1) state the fact that relationship has reached a conclusion (no need to explain why); (2) acknowledge the success you shared, particularly with the kids; and (3) ask for privacy. Here’s how they did it, surely with significant professional help: After a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage. Over the last 27 years, we have raised three incredible children and built a foundation that works all over the world to enable all people to lead healthy, productive lives. We continue to share a belief in that mission and will continue our work together at the foundation, but we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives. We ask for space and privacy for our family as we begin to navigate this new life.
3. Avoid Court– People with money (even well below the level of Bill and Melinda Gates) are actually highly incentivized to want to preserve their wealth, and they will wisely invest their money in a process that is solution focused, like mediation or the Collaborative Divorce Process. Court is an expensive, time-consuming and very public process that should only be used as a last resort. The majority of my divorce clients strive to work out an agreement with their chosen professionals ahead of time, so that by the time we file anything it appears as an amicable divorce with no issues left for the court to decide.
4. Success– Relationships that last a life time are incredibly rare, so let’s not set ourselves up for failure using a ridiculous standard that was obviously far easier to achieve 100 years ago when women, who rarely lived beyond age 58, had limited options and were almost entirely financially dependent on men. Whether your marriage lasts 10, 20 or almost 30 years is not the point, but rather what you accomplished during that time. Did you support each other professionally and grow personally? Did you have wonderful children together? Did you build a solid nest egg? Did you provide one another a safe harbor during some of life’s most trying times? An affirmative answer to most of these basic questions would indicate that your marriage was not a failure or waste of time, and you have much to be proud of even though the decision to part ways has been made.
5. The Future– No one can predict what lies ahead for us after a divorce, but rather than be crippled by fear of further loss or rejection, it is essential to focus on the new possibilities that will present themselves as we head into this new chapter of our lives. Accept that romantic love is not easily sustained, and actually it requires a lot of work to make sure that you continue to communicate, engage, and make the other person feel special long after the honeymoon phase has passed. It takes commitment and skill to nurture a new relationship later in life, especially because we all come into these situations with baggage (some more than others), but you need to trust that you will eventually find that one with compatible baggage and in the meantime, just enjoy the search.
By Regina A. DeMeo