When the world’s richest man gets divorced the media is bound to be interested. And when Amazon boss Jeff Bezos and wife Mackenzie announced their intention to split in January 2019 it was against a background of salacious tabloid stories about what had led to the break up of the 25-year marriage. Given the mix of huge wealth and an alleged extra marital affair it would not have been hard to imagine a long, acrimonious battle over reported assets of $137 billion.

In fact, the opposite occurred. Three months after the initial divorce announcement the couple tweeted details of their financial settlement. Arrived at entirely amicably it seems, and – perhaps more crucially – without any need for a public examination of their financial holdings.

It’s to the couple’s credit that they have achieved such a settlement. And it’s a lesson to anyone going through divorce that, whatever the circumstances, a negotiated settlement – and all the advantages that go with it – is always possible.

HOW CAN I RESOLVE MY FINANCIAL ISSUES WITHOUT GOING TO COURT?

If assets as great as those in the Bezos’ marital pot can be divided amicably despite all the public, commercial and media pressure, why can’t all divorces be settled in this way? We are members of Resolution so we encourage as non-confrontational an approach as possible to family problems. This includes negotiated financial settlements.

An agreed settlement has several advantages:

  • It will be worked out in private, away from court. You will simply have to ask the court to endorse a consent order once you have reached agreement with your spouse.
  • You can reduce the possibility of acrimony and potentially reduce the impact of divorce on any children of a marriage.
  • It avoids the risk of the unknown. The current court rules mean judges have discretion when it comes to deciding the financial outcome in any particular case. As a result it can sometimes be difficult to forsee how a particular judge will approach financial matters.

So there are clear advantages to a negotiated settlement. But in our experience this type of approach only works effectively if both sides adopt a constructive attitude to reaching a settlement. If the genuine desire to avoid court is not there, litigation may well be the only way to decide matters.

I CAN’T AGREE A SETTLEMENT: WHAT HAPPENS AT COURT?

The approach of courts to financial settlements differs from country to country. At Brookman Solicitors in London we represent family law clients in many legal jurisdictions and are familiar with the financial settlement rules internationally.

The Bezos family appear to have resided in Washington State. Despite owning properties in several countries Washington is likely to have been the venue for any contested divorce hearing. If they had gone to court there, the rules generally dictate that assets acquired during the marriage are divided by the parties. This does not necessarily mean equal division. Rather, a split is made that is ‘just and equitable’. So if a court were to decide that Mr Bezos was responsible for generating more of the couple’s wealth it’s likely that he would have receive more than half of any court-decided settlement.

In England and Wales the courts have a significant degree of flexibility when it comes to deciding financial orders. In medium to long-term marriages the starting point is an equal division of assets. But judges can employ a series of factors to depart from this general rule. As we have pointed previously it would be wrong to assume that equal sharing of assets in England and Wales is automatic.

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