Bill and Melinda Gates have announced their decision to divorce after 27 years of marriage but will continue to work together at their namesake philanthropic foundation, a development that shocked the world of philanthropy.
Bill, the billionaire founder of Microsoft, and Melinda, an author and businesswoman, announced their decision to separate on Monday in an identical statement posted on their individual Twitter accounts.
“Over the last 27 years, we have raised three incredible children and built a foundation that works all over the world to enable all people to lead healthy, productive lives,” the statement read. “We continue to share a belief in that mission and will continue our work together at the foundation, but we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives.”
The couple, who met at Microsoft and married in Hawaii in 1994, asked for privacy.
A joint petition for dissolution of marriage filed by the couple in King County Superior Court in Seattle stated: “The marriage is irretrievably broken.”
The couple asked the court to approve their agreement on the division of assets but did not disclose details, according to Reuters news agency.
— Melinda French Gates (@melindagates) May 3, 2021
Bill Gates, 65, founded Microsoft in 1975 with Paul Allen.
His net worth stands at an estimated $130.5bn, according to Forbes, and he has donated $35.8bn worth of Microsoft stock to the couple’s foundation.
He announced last year he would be stepping down from Microsoft’s board to focus full-time on his work as the foundation’s co-chair.
Melinda Gates, 56, serves as the foundation’s co-chair and is the founder of Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company that works to advance the interests of American women and families.
Launched in 2000, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest private philanthropic foundation in the United States and one of the biggest in the world, with net assets of $43.3bn at the end of 2019, according to its website.
The foundation provided $5.1bn to grantees in 135 countries in 2019 and employs 1,602 people.
In 2020, the foundation announced it was committing more than $1.75bn to support the global response to COVID-19.
Since its inception, the foundation said it has awarded more than $54.8bn in direct payments, focusing its activities on health, development and climate.
The pair “will continue to work together to shape and approve foundation strategies, advocate for the foundation’s issues and set the organization’s overall direction,” the Gates Foundation said in a statement.
The Gates’ is the second high-profile divorce among tech’s ultra-wealthy in recent years. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie Scott, separated in 2019 after 25 years of marriage.
Scott, an author and philanthropist, went on to donate $5.7bn of her fortune in 2020 to charities focused on racial justice and food insecurity. She married Dan Jewett, who worked as a chemistry teacher at her children’s school, earlier this year.
David Callahan, founder of the Insider Philanthropy website and author of The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age says it is too early to know how the Gates Foundation will be affected by the divorce.
Melinda Gates, who has begun using the name Melinda French Gates recently, has been turning her attention to women and girls and secured Scott’s support in a $40m gender equality fund that is due to make its first awards later this year.
“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,” Callahan told the Associated Press.
“Nobody knows what the terms are of their divorce agreement. But if Melinda Gates ends up with some portion of that wealth and turns to creating her own foundation, it would be among one of the biggest foundations probably in America.”