When Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and then-wife MacKenzie announced their plans to divorce in January 2019, many people assumed that a hostile, outrageously expensive legal process would follow. The couple had four children during their 25-year marriage, but skeptics predicted that the couple’s $37 billion marital estate would lead to hotly contested divorce proceedings. Naysayers were shocked just four short months later when the two revealed that they reached a divorce settlement, amicably and with mutual expressions of appreciation.
Neither of the parties revealed the details of their negotiations and how they reached an agreement. However, experienced divorce attorneys and legal analysts speculate about whether the Bezoses engaged in the collaborative law process. This approach is intended to move away from traditional divorce scenarios where strict statutory requirements and legal rules apply, at times subverting the wishes of the parties. Instead of handing over key divorce issues to a mediator or judge, future ex-spouses work with a specially trained collaborative law coach.
The objective of collaborative divorce is to reach compromise on property division, spousal support, and issues related to minor children. As such, the process may incorporate family law counselors, financial experts, and other professionals to provide their expertise. Charles D. Stark, a Sonoma County attorney who focuses on collaborative law, pointed out some important factors that impact success with the process.
“The key to smooth sailing in a collaborative divorce is realizing that it’s not a win-lose situation. Your marriage may be over, but parties need to actively participate and be amenable to full disclosure about everything. The advantages are considerable, especially for parents who need to maintain an amicable relationship for the benefit of minor children.” As parents themselves, the Bezoses may have been motivated by this factor to facilitate their intent to co-parent their children.
Mr. Stark stressed that collaborative divorce is not suitable for all couples. “Though the Bezos divorce may serve as an inspiration, the legal process may be more appropriate in certain situations. It’s not something I would recommend if drug or alcohol addiction was an issue. And by definition, collaborative divorce is off the table in the context of domestic violence.”
If the smooth, efficient proceedings involved with the Bezos divorce are any indication, divorcing spouses should at least explore the possibility of collaborative law in the process. However, a discussion with an informed, knowledgeable attorney is essential for those considering this approach.