Is High Net Worth Divorce Good for Women’s Philanthropy?

The question has to be asked: is high net worth divorce good for women’s philanthropy?

The way I see it as a gender lens publisher, every day that new information comes out about divorced billionaire men and how badly they treated women is a good day for women’s philanthropy. And every time I see a new headline about Bill Gates and his difficulties with women, I get a distinct feeling we might soon see a new wave of women’s rage philanthropy, directed by Melinda Gates and a cadre of other feminist donors who have had enough of the bullshit.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Building at Carnegie Mellon University (Photo by Jonathan Speek on Unsplash)

I saw people online saying they were worried about the Gates children in all of this. But their children are young adults now. In my experience, young adults are often the first to suggest to miserable parents that they consider divorce. You might just imagine one of the Gates children saying one day, “Mom (or Dad): We’re the richest people in the world. Why are you living in miserable confinement in your relationship?”

How to Safely Get Your Narrative Out there as Melinda Gates

But it’s still difficult to get the narrative out there when you’re getting divorced, even if you’re Melinda Gates. There are so many powerful systems that you wonder about swooping down on you now — his family, your family, your workplaces, or in the case of the Gateses, their multiple companies, organizations, and global dominions supporting health care, education, and civil society. And let us not leave out, of course, the media.

I am wondering how many more stories will be coming out about Bill Gates now that the divorce is public. Will we now learn that one of the richest white men in the world has been walking around abusing multiple women in broad daylight for decades?

One human to another, I really hope not. But as a publisher on gender lens giving, I say hooray for all the survivors who now may feel able to come forward and tell their stories.

However, before everyone lawyers up, let’s think about the possible negative impacts of divorce for high net worth women: they now have a smaller pile of money and have likely angered their narcissist ex-husbands more times than anyone will ever know. It’s been my experience as a therapist that narcissist men can be some of the cruelest ex-husbands out there, exacting retribution financially and emotionally for years and/or trying to use their relationships with the children to their advantage and to their ex-spouse’s disadvantage. There are some men who do divorce well, thankfully, but entitled white men with narcissistic, predatory tendencies are not generally in that category.

Can we embrace divorce as a healthy choice it often is?

Other than the possible retribution from the ex-spouse, it’s hard to think of other negative impacts of divorce for high net worth women in unsatisfactory or abusive relationships. If you have economic resources, you have a certain kind of freedom. It allows you to protect yourself and to nourish your own dreams. Why would someone in those circumstances tolerate emotional abuse?

Well, we know why. Society. Society tells us divorce is bad. But who is it usually bad for? And who is it often good for? For most women, divorce is an economic downward shift — you now have less resources financially. But you have the freedom to live your life again on your own terms, and you’ve determined that the divorce was worth it. If you’re Melinda French or Mackenzie Scott, you might be willing to downshift financially so you can truly power up all dimensions of your identity. You’ll still come out with more resources than 99.99% of the population, and now you can experience both financial and emotional self-determination.


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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.

One thought on “Is High Net Worth Divorce Good for Women’s Philanthropy?”

  1. High net worth divorce also introduces social stigmas (school change, neighborhood change, sports, club access, etc.) and potential changes changes to socio economic brackets. Victims of powerful abusers are often trapped physically, financially and emotionally as affluent abusers have more access to technology and means to coerce and control. This is an underserved demographic that needs more attention and resources.

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