What does 'irretrievably broken' mean in Bill and Melinda Gates divorce documents?

BILL and Melinda Gates are following in the footsteps of fellow billionaires Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Scott, by divorcing.

The mega-wealthy couple have said their marriage is "irretrievably broken", but what does that term mean?

What does 'irretrievably broken' mean in Bill and Melinda Gates divorce documents?

Billionaire benefactors Bill and Melinda Gates, co-founders of one of the world's largest private charitable foundations, filed for divorce on May 3, 2021, after 27 years of marriage.

Divorce documents reveal their union has been "irretrievably broken" – which are the “grounds” (a legally acceptable reason) to end a marriage.

Ultimately, this term means the relationship can no longer work, explains Donna Hung Law Group in the US.

It implies they are seeking a no-fault divorce, which allows either spouse to file for a marriage dissolution as the marriage is irretrievably broken – and can't be fixed.

It also means this can be done without having to prove the other spouse was engaged in certain acts, such as cruelty or abandonment, to justify ending the marriage.

Legal papers obtained by The Sun show that Melinda, 56, filed for the divorce, and said that the "parties are separated".

"The marriage is irretrievably broken," the documents say.

"We ask the court to dissolve our marriage and find that our marital community ended on the date stated in our separation contract."

The documents also show the Gates are based in Washington.

What are Washington's divorce laws?

According to WomensLaw.org, divorce laws in Washington say:

  • You can get a divorce in Washington if the judge finds your marriage is irretrievably broken.

If you and your spouse agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken, a judge can grant you a divorce after:

  • 90 days have passed since you filed for divorce; and
  • 90 days have passed since your spouse was served with legal notice that you filed for divorce.

Why are Bill and Melinda Gates getting divorced?

The ex-couple announced their bombshell divorce in a joint statement.

Bill Gates, 65, said they had decided to end their marriage after a "great deal of thought and a lot of work" – two years after Melinda admitted that marital life was "really hard".

He noted that they had raised "three incredible children" while helping people all over the world with their philanthropy efforts.

"We continue to share a belief in that mission and will continue our work at the foundation, but we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives," Bill wrote in the statement posted on Twitter.

While marking their 25th wedding anniversary, Melinda admitted to The Sunday Times that being with Bill was often “incredibly hard”.

“When he was having trouble making the decision about getting married, he was incredibly clear that it was not about me, it was about ‘Can I get the balance right between work and family life?”’ she said in 2019.

The pair met when Melinda joined Microsoft in 1987 at a business dinner in New York City, and after a year of dating, it was reported that Bill had to make a pros and cons list about getting married.

“You know, we cared a lot for each other and there were only two possibilities: either, we were going to break up or we were going to get married,” Bill said in the Netflix three-episode series "Inside Bill's Brain".

“I took the idea of marriage very seriously,” Bill added.

The couple eventually tied the knot in Lanai, Hawaii, when Bill was 38 and Melinda was 29 years old.

A pal said the two would always be good friends – despite splitting.

"It doesn't feel like there's any inequality, even though he's the one who started Microsoft and not her," added Mike Slade.

"He appreciates everything about her as opposed to complaining about her."

"I've never heard him complain about her. He's the only person I know on this earth who I've never heard complain about his wife," Mike said.

In the first episode of the 2019 Netflix docuseries Inside Bill's Brain, Bill referred to Melinda as "totally my partner".

Melinda said during the series that she didn't initially know if Bill would be serious about marriage.

"I was new to Microsoft. There were a lot of men there. You know, you're still looking around, you're still figuring it out," she said.

Bill had been contemplating combining his love for her and his passion for Microsoft.

"When we first met, she had other boyfriends and I had Microsoft. We were like, 'Hey we're not really serious about each other are we? We're not going to demand each other's time', " Bill explained.

"But after about a year of that, sort of to our surprise, certainly my surprise, we said, 'Hey, I love you,' and she said she loved me and then it was like, wow. Now what's going to happen?" Bill said.

He also wished that he had thanked her more.

The director of the three-part series asked Bill in the final episode: "If you got hit by a bus today, died, what's the one thing, the one thing you said, 'God, I wish I had done that I haven't done?'"

And Bill responded: "You know, thanking Melinda."

How will Bill and Melinda Gates' fortune be split?

The Sun has seen Bill and Melinda Gates's court documents, which makes clear they have no prenup.

They have, however, confirmed they would keep working together at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the largest charitable foundations in the world.

The Seattle-based organization is the most influential private foundation in the world, with an endowment worth nearly $50billion.

The generous couple has donated $45billion since its inception, including $1.75billion to fight Covid-19.

Bill Gates was formerly the world’s richest person and his fortune is estimated at well over $100billion.

“Nobody knows what the terms are of their divorce agreement.

"But if Melinda Gates ends up with just some portion of that wealth and turns to creating her own foundation, it would be among one of the biggest foundations probably in America,” said David Callahan.

“You can imagine two separate tracks where they’re both working together at the foundation, and each is pursuing their own independent philanthropy outside the foundation,” added David, founder of the Insider Philanthropy website.

Many are wondering how the couple, with a combined net worth of $130billion, will split their lengthy list of assets.

Bill, the world's fourth-richest man, has spoken in the past about how each of his three children would only inherit about $10million of his massive fortune.

When asked about rumors that he would only leave his three children – Jennifer, Rory, and Phoebe – $10million each during a Reddit session in 2013, Gates explained that it was for their benefit.

"I definitely think leaving kids massive amounts of money is not a favor to them," he said.

There is also a question mark in regards to the mega-wealthy Gates' $80billion property portfolio.

Properties up for grabs include a $123million mansion with a trampoline room and a $43million oceanfront mansion with a ten-person spa pool.

The globetrotters married in 1994 in Hawaii, and paid $43million for a "jaw-dropping property in Del Mar, California", reported Town and Country magazine in 2020.

'Xanadu 2.0' in Medina, Washington, is considered to be Gates' main home, with the mega-mansion estimated to be worth well over $100million.

The 66,000-square-foot mansion took seven years to build and includes six kitchens, a trampoline room, a 60-foot swimming pool and can accommodate up to 200 people.

Outside of the family home in Washington, Gates owns a 4.5 acre ranch in Wellington, Florida, reportedly bought in 2013 for $8.7million.

How the couple end up settling their estate and any impact on their foundation will be closely watched across the globe.

There is particular interest as it is happening two years after fellow tech giant billionaire Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie finalized their divorce in 2019.

Jeff, the world's richest man, announced his divorce from MacKenzie after their 25-year-long marriage.

MacKenzie Scott has since remarried and now focuses on her own philanthropy after receiving a four per cent stake in Amazon, worth more than $36billion.

Tesla's Elon Musk, the third richest man on earth, also went through two divorces.

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