Jeff Bezos and his ex-wife MacKenzie are the wealthiest divorcees in American history, and maybe world history as well. Bezos is the founder of Amazon.com, one of only three companies to ever reach a $1 trillion-dollar valuation. Amazon, of course, is a well-known ecommerce powerhouse that has been used by vast majority of Americans. Nearly everyone is familiar with the company, and it is estimated that somewhere between 40% and 60% of U.S. households subscribe to Amazon Prime, the company’s popular monthly subscription service.
In January of this year, Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos announced that they were splitting up after 25 years of marriage. In a joint Twitter announcement that one respondent said sounded “better than most people’s marriages”, the couple said, among other things, the following:
“We feel incredibly lucky to have found each other and deeply grateful for every one of the years we have been married to each other. If we had known we would separate after 25 years, we would do it all again.”
Despite the usual tabloid drama that surrounds celebrity divorcing couples, the Bezos divorce settlement was handled quietly and completed in just a few months. On April 4, MacKenzie Bezos tweeted the settlement announcement along with some of the details:
“Grateful to have finished the process of dissolving my marriage with Jeff with support from each other and everyone who reached out with kindness, and looking forward to next phase and is co-parents and friends. Happy to be giving all my interests in the Washington Post and Blue Origin, and 75% of our Amazon stock…”
The Bezos split was the ultimate high net worth divorce, and the stakes could not have been higher. The couple’s combined net worth is estimated to be somewhere around $150 billion. This includes 16% ownership in Amazon, the Washington Post, rocket and space travel company Blue Origin, two homes in Beverly Hills, two homes near Seattle, WA, the largest home in Washington, DC, and a ranch in Texas.
The stakes could not have been higher; and because the Bezoses reportedly had no prenuptial agreement, the marital estate could have been split 50/50, potentially disrupting the operation of one of the world’s largest corporations. But that did not happen, because the couple decided from the very outset to do what was best for their family and their business investments and handle things respectfully.
At the end of the day, Jeff Bezos remains the world’s richest man and Amazon’s largest stockholder with a post-divorce net worth estimated to be around $110 billion. MacKenzie also gave Jeff her voting shares in Amazon, so he still retains firm control of the company operations. For her part, MacKenzie’s $35 billion settlement makes her the world’s third richest woman.
All financial considerations aside, the most important outcome is that the Bezos couple is committed to maintaining a close relationship going forward. By settling their divorce amicably and without a long, drawn out court battle, they were able to remain friends and business partners and minimize the negative impact the divorce was bound to have on themselves and their family.
It is widely believed that the Bezoses mediated their divorce, but no one is entirely sure because everything was done privately. Whether they used an official divorce mediator or not, the result of their proceeding is typical of what happens when high net worth couples go through mediation.
I have worked with numerous couples that have significant and complex assets, albeit none have had an estate anywhere near the size of the Bezoses. When couples are in the high asset category, they often fear that their situation is too complicated to be resolved through mediation. But the Bezos divorce shows that this is not the case.
You can absolutely mediate your divorce, even when you have a large estate. In fact, this is one of our specialties here at Advanced Mediation Solutions. We work closely with a team of in-house experts such as experienced CPAs and other seasoned financial professionals who can be called upon when needed to help navigate the complex aspects of the divorce that need to be settled.
In recent years, there has been a definite shift toward parents wanting to have equal parenting time with their children after a divorce. In fact, many states have already adopted co-parenting as the default arrangement in child custody cases, putting the burden of proof on either party to show that this arrangement is not in the best interests of the child. While 50/50 parenting may sound great in theory – the children get to be with both parents for an equal amount of time during the year – in practice, it may not always be the best arrangement for the parties involved.
Equal parenting is a wonderful concept, and proponents of this arrangement are well-intentioned. The idea behind it is that kids are always better off when both parents are heavily involved in their lives. And 50/50 parenting seeks to replicate, as much as possible, what it would have been like for the children had the parents stayed together.
There are unintended consequences of the co-parenting arrangement, however, and careful consideration needs to be given to each family’s unique circumstances before going down this road.As a divorce mediator, I work very closely with my clients to thoroughly examine all important factors to help determine if this arrangement really makes sense for their situation.
How does 50/50 Parenting Time Work?
Many people wonder what a 50/50 co-parenting schedule looks like. There are actually a variety of schedules that parents can implement, depending on what works best for everyone. Some examples of 50/50 parenting schedules include:
- Alternating Weeks: Children spend one week with one parent and the next week with the other parent, with the handoff usually occurring at the beginning of the weekend (late Friday or Saturday morning).
- Alternating Every Two Weeks: Children spend two consecutive weeks with one parent, then the next two weeks with the other parent.
- 3-4-4-3 Schedule: Children spend three days of the week with one parent and four days of the week with the other, then alternate the following week.
- 2-2-3 Schedule: Children spend two days of the week with one parent, two days with the other, then go back to the first parent for the final three days of the week. The next week it alternates.
- 2-2-5-5 Schedule: Children spend two days with each parent then five days with each parent then back to two days with each parent, and so on.
These are just a few examples of schedules parents may use in a co-parenting arrangement. There are numerous variations of these and others that can be implemented. Some parents are even choosing to have their children live at the same residence all the time while they are the ones alternating back and forth between residences.
Problems with 50/50 Parenting Time
One of the driving forces behind the 50/50 parenting movement is the idea that both parents have an equal right to be involved in the lives of their children. Unfortunately, the assertion of “parents’ rights” can sometimes detract from the most important objective of child custody arrangements; to always do what is in the best interests of the child. Put another way, just because you can do something, does not always mean you should do it.
Here are a few scenarios in which a 50/50 parenting schedule would not always be best for the parties involved:
- Children with Special Needs: For children who have physical and emotional issues, such as autism, ADHD, anxiety, or similar issues, it may not always be best for these kids to transition back and forth between parents.
- Parents who Live a Significant Distance from Each Other: Another common issue that presents difficulty with 50/50 parenting is when children have to travel a long distance between the residences of the two parents. This can become further complicated when deciding which school the kids should attend (when parents live in different school districts), which activities the kids want to be involved in, etc.
- When One Parent Travels A lot: If one parent does a lot of traveling for work, this can make it more difficult to come up with a consistent 50/50 parenting schedule, especially when the traveling parent does not always know when their business trips will be scheduled.
Determining the Best Interests of the Children through Mediation
Though 50/50 parenting arrangements can work well in some instances, there are other cases in which it is not the best approach. For parents, it is important to focus on the needs of their children, rather than asserting their “rights” or meeting their own emotional or financial needs. There is no “one size fits all” approach that is best for everyone, and this is where mediation can be very helpful.
With divorce mediation, parents work together in a cooperative rather than combative environment to reach the settlement that works best for them. This helps eliminate the “I win you lose” mindset, shifting the focus to win-win settlements that benefit everyone. And with the mediation process, parents are in control of the final outcome, rather than the courts. This allows them to come up with more unique and creative approaches that better fit their specific situation.
At the end of 2017, Congress passed, and the president signed into law a sweeping tax reform bill. Among the numerous changes was one that significantly affects divorcing couples. As of the end of 2018, alimony/spousal support is no longer tax deductible for the payor spouse, and support payments are no longer taxable for the recipient spouse. This means that the payor spouse now has to earn more money to pay the same amount in spousal support.
The tax changes with regard to spousal support have made it more difficult for attorneys to negotiate a settlement. The previously used “cookie cutter” formulas that used to apply to this issue are no longer available, and Congress did not provide any real tradeoff in exchange for taking away this deduction.
Now, since there are no clear guidelines around how to compensate for this change, the only viable solution is for attorneys to work within their clients’ specific circumstances and budgets to understand their real needs. This can be challenging during an adversarial proceeding, however, where both sides have their defenses up, and the goal of the legal counsels is to “win” more concessions on behalf of their clients.
How Divorce Mediation helps Overcome Financial Challenges
Without the ability for payor spouses to deduct alimony payments, many divorcing couples need a more innovative approach to handle spousal support and other important financial matters. This means taking a deep dive into the overall financial picture to identify ways the couple can reach a solution that makes sense for both spouses. As a divorce mediator, this is what I have already been doing for years!
Divorce mediation, by its very nature, he is a much more cooperative approach to dissolving a marriage. Spouses are able to work out the terms and conditions of their divorce through a process that is guided by a neutral, third party mediator.
Although the mediator guides the discussion, spouses are ultimately in control of the outcome, and no agreement can be binding unless both parties agree to it. During this confidential process, spouses are able to speak more freely and bounce ideas off of each other that can bring them closer to a win-win resolution.
For couples with more complex financial situations, we have partnerships with experienced financial experts who can help the spouses make sense of these complicated issues and often identify more creative approaches to successfully resolve them. By understanding all the options that are available to the couple, spouses are frequently able to develop mutually beneficial settlements that would be difficult to accomplish in a court setting.
Divorce mediation provides several other potential benefits as well:
- The process can typically be completed at a fraction of the cost of traditional divorce litigation;
- The process can usually be completed much sooner than a traditional divorce;
- The cooperative environment provided by divorce mediation allows couples to settle their divorce more amicably;
- Since spouses control the outcome of the mediation process, they are much more likely to take ownership of the final settlement and adhere to its terms and conditions.
For couples in all tax brackets, divorce mediation provides a viable alternative to litigation that can successfully address spousal support and other important financial issues. By working together with the parties to understand their financial needs, we are often able to come to a peaceable and workable agreement with realistic support amounts.
This time of year, a lot of people have New Year’s resolutions. Most of them have something to do with how they will improve their lives. Examples include “eat healthier”, “lose weight”, “start a business”, “pay off debt”, and “put away enough of a down payment to buy that dream home.” Some people have a different kind of New Year’s resolution; to end their marriage.
It is an annual phenomenon that the number of divorces tend to shoot up right after the calendar turns and we begin another year. There are a couple reasons why this might happen:
Many spouses decide to postpone a family breakup until after the holidays “for the sake of the children.”
For some people, the aftermath of the holiday season triggers the divorce. They endure another holiday with a spouse who is inconsiderate, treats the kids and their family members unkindly, and for them at least, takes all the joy out of what should be the “most wonderful time of the year.”
Divorcing at the beginning of the year often makes sense for other reasons as well. This is the time when people are looking for a “fresh start”, and what better time is there than right after the New Year to end a marriage that is clearly not working and start a new life as a single person or with someone else?
There are financial considerations as well. For example, divorce can have a profound impact on the tax situations of both spouses. 2018 might have been an exception to this for some couples because of the end of the alimony deduction for payor spouses. But in general, it is better to dissolve a marriage closer to the beginning of the year so both parties have ample time to get their finances in order for tax season the following year.
The Benefits of Mediation for a New Year’s Divorce
If divorcing is one of your New Year’s resolutions, you may want to consider mediation rather than traditional divorce litigation. Divorce mediation is an increasingly popular alternative to going to court, because it allows couples to dissolve their marriage more affordably and efficiently.
Mediation provides several advantages over litigation, these include:
Lower Cost: Mediation can typically be done in just a few sessions, and it can often be completed at a fraction of the cost of litigation.
Time Savings: Court-initiated divorces can take several months up to a year or longer to complete. Mediation can often be wrapped up within a few months or less.
Amicable Resolutions: Mediation is conducted in a collaborative environment where spouses work together (through the guidance of a neutral, third-party mediator) to resolve their differences amicably. The process is designed to produce peaceful and workable settlements that both parties can live with. This helps preserve delicate family relationships, which is especially important if there are kids involved.
Flexible Settlements: Though divorce mediation is facilitated by the mediator, the spouses are in control of the outcome. Settlements cannot be imposed on either party; both must agree to them, or they will not be legally valid. This allows spouses to take ownership of the process and develop resolutions that work for their unique situation. And because the spouses are the ones in ultimate control, they are more likely to live up to any agreements that are reached.
Confidential Process: Divorce litigation becomes part of the public court record. Mediation, on the other hand, is a private and confidential process. This means that nothing that is said during the sessions can be used against either participant in the future.
Divorce mediation is not for everyone. This is a voluntary process that can be ended at any time without an agreement. For this reason, spouses need to be committed to making the process work. This does not mean they have to agree on everything; in fact, it is totally fine if there are issues that you and your spouse don’t see eye to eye on. It just means that they need to be willing to act respectfully toward each other and make reasonable compromises for the overall benefit of settling their differences without the need for a costly, protracted, and potentially combative litigation proceeding.
Every human deserves the same amount of dignity and respect when facing a divorce. In a situation where a partner in a heterosexual relationship comes out as a member of the LGBTQ community, there can be a lot of added challenges to the dissolving of a marriage. Mediators with experience in with these types of situations have the versatility and skillset to navigate this process smoothly and develop a workable and peaceable solution both parties can be satisfied with.
Mediation involving a member of the LGBTQ community is just like any other type of divorce mediation. A mediator schedules the sessions at a time and location that is convenient for all participants. In addition, the mediator works with parents of children (if the couple has children) to keep the parents working together to support them. Litigation can bring out stressful sides in both partners and turn them against each other. Mediation works to promote discussion about what is best for each partner in the separation, as well as what is best for the children.
Mediators work with both parties to make the separation as amicable and cost efficient as possible. They work with couples to determine the distribution of assets, as well as child custody and scheduling parenting time between both parties. Highly skilled mediators often have experience working with other types of special cases as well, such as divorces where the separation is long distance and other divorces with higher assets. They understand that each situation is unique, and they are able to tailor solutions based on the specific needs of each couple.
After a spouse comes out in a heterosexual relationship, it can become a highly stressful and damaging situation. Fear, anxiety, and confusion can fill the tension between the two partners. Mediation is a highly effective way of handling these situations, because mediators are accustomed to working with relationships of all types. By bringing together the spouses into the decision process, mediation also gives participants far greater control over the outcome, making it more likely that the spouses can part ways on good terms.
Mediators settle divorces in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, and have the experience needed to help people from all different backgrounds feel comfortable and satisfied. Mediators can maintain quiet and confidential meetings with both parties to determine what is best for each of the partners in the separation, as well as their children and assets. Mediation works at a personal level, looking beyond the sexual orientation of the person and focusing on their feelings and what will be best for them.
Relationships today are flourishing and evolving in so many ways. Divorce for LGBTQ members in heterosexual marriages requires professionals who are able to adapt and evolve their communication skills to work with such relationships. Mediators have the flexibility to handle this evolution, and they can cater to the needs of any individual, no matter how they choose to identify.