Melinda Gates began consulting divorce lawyers in October 2019, according to a report – around the same time as her husband’s friendship with Jeffrey Epstein was being called into question.
The Gates’ divorce was announced last Monday via Twitter.
It was over a year-and-a-half in the making, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
The paper reported on Sunday that Melinda was in consultations as far back as October 2019, speaking to New York divorce lawyer Robert Stephan Cohen.
The same month that the New York Times reported that Bill had met with Epstein several times, and once stayed late at his townhouse in New York. A spokeswoman for Gates said at the time that the meetings had focused on philanthropy.
Melinda Gates has reportedly been consulting divorce lawyers since October 2019
New York-based Robert Stephan Cohen has been assisting Melinda, The WSJ reported
Lawyer Cohen has represented Michael Bloomberg, Henry Kravis and Ivana Trump in their divorces.
Bill has been speaking to lawyers including Ronald Olson, a partner at the firm Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, who has represented Mark Zuckerberg and is a board member at Berkshire Hathaway, where he sat alongside Gates and Warren Buffett, a close friend.
Bill and Melinda Gates had met Epstein in 2013, and Melinda reportedly told Bill that she found him creepy and did not think they should be associated with him.
Epstein had by that point already served time in a Florida prison, being sentenced to 18 months on sex crimes charges in a 2008 plea deal.
In 2013, the Microsoft founder also allegedly flew on Epstein’s private jet, dubbed the ‘Lolita Express’, from New Jersey to Palm Beach, Florida, according to flight records.
Despite Melinda’s concerns, Gates and some staff from their Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation maintained ties with Epstein, who killed himself in his Manhattan jail in August 2019, where he was awaiting further serious sex charges.
After the initial expose of his meetings, Gates in September 2019 told The Wall Street Journal: ‘I met him. I didn’t have any business relationship or friendship with him.’
The divorce filing was signed on May 3 this year- she signed her divorce petition in Bellevue, Washington, near the family home and the foundation’s headquarters.
He signed the papers from Palm Desert, California.
The pair – one of the world’s richest couples, with a fortune of $130 billion – waited until their youngest child, Phoebe, turned 18 in September to formally announce the split, according to a report.
The three children will inherit $10 million each, the Gateses had previously announced – all the rest will be given to charity, under The Giving Pledge.
There doesn’t appear to be a specific incident that triggered their split, which a source told PEOPLE was the result of a ‘combo of things.’
The timing of the divorce, meanwhile, seems to relate to their youngest daughter, Phoebe, turning 18 years old back in September.
‘It’s absolutely because their youngest child is graduating from high school, and the idea was that they stayed together through that,’ the source said.
‘They limped through until their kids were out of school, like a lot of people.’
Their other two children are older, with daughter Jennifer 25 years old and son Rory 21 years old.
Jennifer has said their family is going through a ‘challenging stretch of time’.
‘I won’t personally comment further on anything around the separation, but please know that your kind words and support mean the world to me,’ she wrote on Instagram.
The two were married in Hawaii back in 1994, several years after they met
Jennifer is engaged to Egyptian show jumper Nayel Nassar.
The source told PEOPLE that they do not think the split is going to get more contentious in public.
‘Nobody is going to want to invite more scrutiny because it’ll hurt their credibility,’ the source said.
‘I don’t think they’re so angry that anybody wants to take each other down, like you sometimes see. [Melinda is] not incentivized for that.’
Melinda pulled the trigger on the divorce on Monday, revealing in the process that a separation agreement was in place.
She said the marriage was ‘irretrievably broken,’ but was not looking for spousal support or child support.
The two still plan on working together at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and are trying to avoid public acrimony.
‘They were really interested in trying to win a Nobel Prize,’ says the PEOPLE source.
‘So one thing that was part of this is, if it gets worse, then it ends that. It seems as if that was on the agenda, and that’s for both of them.’
In a joint statement posted to their Twitter accounts on Monday, the former couple said their work with their foundation will continue but their marriage will not.
‘After a great deal of thought and a lot of work, we have made the decision to end our marriage.
‘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.
‘We continue to share a belief in that mission and will continue to work together at the foundation, but we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives. We ask for space and privacy for our family as we begin to navigate this new life.’
Bill, 65, and Melinda, 56, met in 1987 while she was working at Microsoft, the company he founded.
That same year, Bill became the world’s youngest billionaire at the age of 31.
The couple married in Hawaii in 1994 and would go on to establish the world’s largest charitable foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in 2000.
Since then, it has contributed more than $50 billion to causes including eradicating polio and malaria. The foundation has also been a major investor in coronavirus treatments.
The reason behind their split remains a mystery but Melinda has previously suggested her husband struggled balancing work and family.
Bill and Melinda Gates have signed a separation contract – but what is it?
In their divorce filing, Bill and Melinda Gates make it clear that they have no prenuptial agreement – but the papers make repeated reference to a ‘separation contract’ which will divide up their estate.
A separation contract, or separation agreement, is a legally binding document drawn up by divorcing couples in advance of their split in which they agree how to split their lives – including child custody and access, debts and property.
It is governed by contract law, meaning that either party can sue the other for breach of contract if the agreement is broken.
Signing a separation contract allows a couple to divide their assets by mutual agreement, rather than having to go to court.
For the average couple, this means saving money in lawyers’ fees. For Bill and Melinda Gates, it avoids a lengthy, public process during which details about their private lives an assets may have been revealed.
However, a separation agreement is not necessarily final and a judge may overrule it if they feel the contract is unfair to the children involved, unfair to one of the partners, or that one partner has not fully disclosed their assets or earnings to be divvied up.