Controlling the Narrative
Jeff Bezos, arguably the world’s richest man, has seen his fortune teeter around the $200 billion mark in recent months. This represents a nice pandemic-fueled comeback from his post-divorce financial dip, when he had to surrender appx. $36 billion worth of Amazon shares to his estranged wife. MacKenzie Scott, formerly Mrs. Bezos, whose novel Traps, a story about “four women in distress,” is currently ranked #17,081 on the Amazon Psychological Fiction Bestsellers list, pledged last year to give away half her fortune, but managed instead to double it as she moved briskly toward #1 on the Forbes list of the world’s richest women.
Digging a bit deeper under the headlines, it turns out that Scott’s most successful piece of writing was Amazon’s business plan, so her divorce settlement hardly represents the ill-gotten gains of a shameless quote-unquote “golddigger.” By all appearances, Scott represents the polar opposite of the scheming, manipulative conniver the word evokes, one who steals the stage in many psychological romance novels popular among female readers. While her exuberant husband focused on his extra-marital and business affairs, she chose to concentrate her own considerable energies on her four children and on her not-very-remunerative award-winning literary career.
During the run-up to the Bezos divorce settlement, much coverage was focused on the fact that the couple had no pre-nuptial agreement. Doomsayers proclaimed that the Bezos fortune was in grave jeopardy, that the divorce had the potential to destroy the company. Many such stories, no doubt floated by Amazon PR flacks speaking off the record, all but begged MacKenzie not to ruin the American economy by halving the fortune of the world’s wealthiest man.
One reason for the breathless suspense in the financial and tabloid press about the possibility that Bezos’ company could almost literally be sawed in half lies in the fact that Washington, where the couples resided, is a community property state, meaning that divorce settlements commonly provide for equal distribution of marital property. Since Jeff Bezos founded the company after getting married, a case could easily be made that his entire fortune could be considered community property.
In the end, MacKenzie Bezos settled for less than half of the money she could have plausibly demanded at trial, but she got the house, the car and the four kids; and her remaining fortune is more money than she could ever manage to burn if she spent all day tossing dollar bills into one of her vast fireplaces 40 hours a week for the next 20 years. On top of that, her reputation survived the marriage largely intact, while his reputation is not what it was. Indeed, perhaps partly in order to prevent his personal issues from damaging the company’s future, Bezos recently announced that he is stepping aside from the CEO post that he has held since the company was launched.
Reputation damage aside, if living well is the best revenge, the Bezos divorce settlement looks like a win-win situation. If you are contemplating divorce in Connecticut, however, it is perhaps good to keep in mind that MacKenzie Scott’s generous settlement was significantly facilitated by Washington’s community property laws. Fortunately or unfortunately, Connecticut is an “equitable distribution” state, meaning that the law painstakingly takes into account each party’s respective contribution to the marital fortune and family support along with other factors, and endeavors to distribute property “fairly” rather than equally. Moving the needle from “fair” to “equal” can sometimes be an uphill battle in Connecticut, so hiring an experienced, savvy legal advisor is a key factor in ensuring that you don’t get the short end of the stick when the judge issues the final decree.
Attorney Carmina K. Hirsch is a veteran Connecticut divorce attorney who can help you shape the narrative in a way that is favorable to you, by drawing on her extensive knowledge of state family law and her years of experience in oral and writtenlegal arguments that hit home with Connecticut judges.
Hirsch Legal, LLC serves divorce and family law clients in New Haven and upper Fairfield County (Bridgeport, Milford, Danbury, Waterbury, Trumbull, Oxford). If your marriage is heading for a premature conclusion, give us a call today!