Want to learn the details of the Bezos split? Maybe look for SEC filings

Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos

[Source: MarketWatch]  CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos and writer MacKenzie Bezos are divorcing.

Want to learn the details of the Bezos split? Maybe look for SEC filings according to celebrity divorce lawyer Peter M. Walzer.

The ways the Bezos divorce is different

After 25 years, four kids — and the creation of Amazon.com AMZN, +2.08%   — Jeff Bezos, the tech behemoth’s CEO, and his wife MacKenzie announced Wednesday they were deciding to divorce.

Sure, the parting pair will join the hundreds of thousands of Americans who divorce every year. But that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

Carving up complex assets, dealing with white-hot media curiosity and the sheer amount of money at play are all ways this is not the undoing of any normal nuptial, divorce lawyers told MarketWatch.

Bezos, 54, the world’s richest man for now at least, is someone who’s very used to getting his way, said California top family law attorney Peter M. Walzer, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

“In this arena, he’s got to compromise and work out a deal or the end result could be bad for him, his investors, the company, everyone involved.”

Kind of a corporate deal

The couple didn’t delve into details on the financial terms of separation and Amazon, headquartered in Seattle, Wash. didn’t respond to a request for further comment.

Still, the Bezos’ statement said they envisioned “wonderful futures ahead, as parents, friends, partners in ventures and projects, and as individuals pursuing ventures and adventures.”

“We might learn the most by whatever SEC filing is made,” said David Starks, a partner at McKinley Irvin in Seattle. The documents companies file with regulators like the SEC can discuss material changes in stock ownership.

It’s unclear if the divorce has been finalized or what court the couple is even filing in.

If it is filed in Washington, the state’s rules on “community property” will govern. Starks said that means “typically all assets acquired during parties’ marriage is community property subject to division by the court in a ‘just and equitable’ way.”

But “just and equitable’ needn’t mean 50/50,” he pointed out. Starks noted that in many cases — at least where billions weren’t involved — the spouse making less money would be getting at least half to account for their smaller income, Starks said.

Amazon was founded in July 1994. Jeff and MacKenzie, now 48, tied the knot two months later. Jeff noted last year that MacKenzie did the accounting during Amazon’s first year, Reuters noted. The wire service cited data saying MacKenzie did not directly hold Amazon shares.

Starks wagered lawyers for both sides had already worked out a deal on the divorce, with the public announcement one of the final strokes.

In Washington, divorcing parties didn’t need to file property settlement agreements with court, he noted. “We may never know how they organized everything.”  It’s also unclear if the Bezos have a prenuptial agreement.

If they do, the deal’s terms would govern the split with little leeway for challenge, according to Raoul Felder, a Manhattan divorce lawyer with his share of high profile clients, like New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Robin Givens, Mike Tyson’s ex.

But Felder guessed they didn’t because the pre-marriage pacts only started leaving its “bad sort of discoloration” about 25 years ago.

The reason for the new public awareness? None other than Donald Trump’s very public parting with Ivana Trump by 1992. “That was the first one that was very visible,” Felder said of a split played out on New York City tabloid pages.

Felder brushed off the feel-good language of the Bezos’ statement.

“It’s all baloney,” said Felder, who hasn’t met the couple.

Intense media interest

“The one thing that incredibly rich don’t have, that they can’t really buy is privacy,” Walzer said.

He represented actress Katie Holmes when she allegedly surprised Tom Cruise by filing for divorce. Walzer, a partner at Walzer Melcher, said they chose to file in New York, not California, to try keeping the case confidential. “Within five minutes of filing, it was in the press,” he said.

Attorney Eleanor Alter knows the media attention divorces can attract. She’s represented the likes of Robert DeNiro, Madonna and Mia Farrow and other high-net worth clients.

But they don’t all go that way; she’s handled big-name divorces that garnered no attention “because everyone was very quiet and discreet.”

Alter said that depended on the personalities of the spouses and lawyers who were involved, not to mention the friends and relatives.

Massive money

At one point last fall, Amazon was almost worth $1 trillion dollars.

If there was no prenuptial agreement, Felder said, the Jeff-MacKenzie divorce would be “like two major corporations splitting apart.”

But big money doesn’t necessarily lead to bitter divorces, Alter said, emphasizing she didn’t know the specific financial stakes of the Bezos divorce.

Though making for more “complicated deals,” they could be easier to resolve than divorces with smaller amounts of money to go around, she said.

According to Alter, “most of the time, when there are a lot of assets and money, if people aren’t crazy it settles.”

However the specifics work out, the Bezos’ money seems ultimately destined for their family, philanthropy or a mix of the two.

The couple has already been donating to various causes. Their Day One Fund pledged $2 billion last fall to address homelessness and build new preschools.