Divorce Gap Alert: Why Melinda French Gates Deserves 50%

Here I am again, wanting to talk about divorce in the billionaire class. Today’s discussion will focus on Melinda French Gates, who recently filed for divorce from Bill Gates, one of the richest men in the world.

Sun reflects off the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle. (Photo by Taylor Vick on Unsplash)

We saw how it went down with MacKenzie Scott. She got about 26.9% of the assets in her divorce from Jeff Bezos. Soon after, we learned that MacKenzie Scott was one of the newest signatories of the Giving Pledge and would now (in theory) be giving away at least half her wealth while living. {sigh} So many more billions of dollars that MacKenzie Scott could have had to work with to do her off-the-charts giving, had she gotten 50%.

I believe that more often than not, a woman deserves 50% of all the assets upon divorce, even if she is not the primary breadwinner. If more women were getting 50% upon divorce, it would mean we were living in a world that acknowledged the value of all the labor that goes into raising children and running a household. There is much truth to the Mexican proverb that “the house does not rest upon the ground but upon a woman.” And yet, as a society, we fail to recognize the fundamental value of women’s unpaid emotional and physical labor, both in the home and also in the larger community, that creates a high quality of life for a family. This failed recognition shows up big time in divorce, where women typically lose not only social status and connections, but also a significant portion of their financial worth.

With high net-worth philanthropy divorces, the loss when a woman does not receive 50% of the family’s assets upon divorce is not just her own, but is literally society’s loss, because we know from the WPI research that when women give, they often do so in much more impactful ways.

The double bottom line for women like Melinda French Gates and MacKenzie Scott is that their net worth will likely pay a huge dividend for progressive movements. The more resources they walk away with, the more they can support gender equality, racial equality, class equality, LGBTQIA+ equality, and equality for all other marginalized groups. The more marginalized groups become empowered, the more the world can moves toward systemic and lasting change.

Probably all along, philanthropists like MacKenzie Scott and Melinda French Gates were the ones spearheading much of the agenda for the social justice philanthropy. Now they can do that work on their own without having to get spousal buy-in. This could make their social justice philanthropy much easier to do, and accelerate their work in this area.

I’m going to guess that Melinda French Gates will get something along the same lines as MacKenzie Scott got in her divorce: 26%. Because that’s the patriarchy for you. The court systems are accustomed to divorces that reduce women’s net worth, so to get a deal that is better than the average would probably take one of the most valuable resources of all for middle-aged people — time. Going for 50% would probably mean committing to a long protracted court battle, with no guarantee that their ex-husbands will ever agree to the deal.


MacKenzie Scott and the $14.2 Billion Dollar Question for Women & Girls

Melinda Receives WPI Award, Urges More Philanthropy Led by Women

MacKenzie’s Pledge: Leaders Driving Change to Fix Inequality

At $37 Billion, Did MacKenzie Bezos Get a Fair Divorce?

Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

3 thoughts on “Divorce Gap Alert: Why Melinda French Gates Deserves 50%”

  1. I think it’s a bigger question. Does marriage mean you are ‘two people as one’ so every asset acquired/grown from the day of the marriage forward should be 50/50 when you split (regardless of gender, actions, internal or external workload and whose name is on accounts) or is marriage ‘two roles in partnership’ which means the person receiving more unpaid labor from the other owes them when they break up, plus sometimes a bonus payment if one side was an asshole (largely defined as cheating or addiction)? Each state does it differently. Each judge does it differently. The whole thing is contradictory.

    I think a step back is needed. If the partner working primarily outside the home isn’t fairly sharing the money they make with a partner inside, why waiting until the divorce to get it? If that money was rightfully Ms Gates’ all along because married is one person, why couldn’t she have full power over it 50% of family assets all along?

    Or, if the money is a payment for work inside the family, shouldn’t she have gotten it as her ‘pay’ from the start?

    Speaking as a woman who paid alimony to a man who didn’t equally contribute inside or outside the home, the whole thing is confusing and not grounded in any central thesis.

  2. Hello. Are you familiar with Lorna Jorgenson Wendt, corporate wife, who challenged the divorce laws in CT when she was allocated one-fifth of her husband’s wealth and created the Institute for Marriage Equality?

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