Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive of Amazon, recently announced that he will transfer a percentage of the company’s stock to his wife, Mackenzie. This transaction involves holdings estimated at more than $35 billion. According to the trades, while still pending, the Bezos divorce settlement will likely be the largest in world history.
Of importance, this was promptly accomplished under difficult circumstances. In a statement posted to his Twitter account, Jeff Bezos said:
In all our work together, Mackenzie’s abilities have been on full display. She has been an extraordinary partner, ally, and mother Mackenzie posted a tweet of her own, saying, “Grateful to have finished the process of dissolving my marriage with Jeff from each other. … Happy to be giving him all my interests in the Washington Post and Blue Origin, and 75% of our Amazon stock plus voting control of my shares to support his continued contributions with the teams of these incredible companies.
Jeff and Mackenzie’s decision is an example of parties who with dignity resolved their dispute notwithstanding the amount involved and the background that led to the separation.
In this regard, tabloids reported intimate text messages between Bezos and TV anchor Lauren Sanchez, bringing into the public domain private information. Others have extensively written about this. Often “revelations’ of this kind lead to ugly legal fights that negatively impact the lives of those involved. Minor and adult children are impacted. Sadly, lawyers often fail to counsel their clients on how best to resolve economic disputes, and parties spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions of dollars, attempting to appease the emotional overlay of a family in disarray. Although this writer is unaware of the legal theories that could have led to the Bezos family becoming involved in expensive litigation, to the credit of the parties here, they agreed with excellent counsel to put emotions aside and enter into a settlement that saved the family the emotional and economic cost of formal litigation. Sadly, this is the exception to the general rule.
In my practice, I often learn of cases where parties devote substantial financial resources and emotional energy conducting discovery and investigation to prepare for an eventual trial date. In situations where businesses must be characterized as separate or joint property or apportioned, discovery is necessary. There are also situations where property has been hidden and investigation is required. In addition, where real property is in dispute, appraisals are necessary. In other words, certain fact patterns necessitate limited discovery. But to what end and extent? In counseling my clients, I try to determine which party is the “hurt” party and how that party may impact resolution. A lawyer should never forget that he or she is also a counselor and attempt to put the entire divorce process into context for the client who wants to “destroy” the other party.
Most jurisdictions require parties to engage in mediation before a trial commences. However, mediation is not mandatory until a few weeks before a trial is scheduled to begin. During mediation, a skilled mediator explains to the parties the pros and cons of proceeding to trial and at some point, during the mediation one or both parties ask: “Why did we go through costly pre-trial litigation when we could have worked out our differences in mediation?” The simple answer is emotions motivated one or both parties during the beginning of the divorce. In other words, one or both of the parties were not ready to explore settlement. This writer is of the opinion those involved in divorce should learn from the example set by the Bezos family who calmly settled their dispute with dignity and respect.