Billionaire benefactors Bill and Melinda Gates announced on Monday on Twitter that they have decided to divorce but pledged to continue working together to lead one of the world’s largest private charitable foundations.
The couple have been married for 27 years and have three children together.
Mr Gates, 65, who cofounded Microsoft and is ranked fourth on Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest, and his wife Melinda French Gates, 56, established the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in a bid to give away billions of dollars.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has become one of the most powerful and influential forces in global public health, spending more than $50 billion over the past two decades to bring a business approach to combating poverty and disease.
The Gates have backed widely praised programmes in malaria and polio eradication, child nutrition and vaccines. The foundation last year committed $1.75 billion to Covid-19 relief.
"After a lot of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage," the couple wrote in identical tweets on their personal Twitter accounts.
"We no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives."
They said they will continue to work together at the foundation, which also works to combat climate change and bolster US education.
“We ask for space and privacy for our family as we begin to navigate this new life," they said in their statement.
In a joint petition for dissolution of marriage, the couple asserted their legal union was "irretrievably broken," but said they had reached an agreement on how to divide their marital assets.
No details of that accord were disclosed in the filing in King County Superior Court in Seattle.
Bloomberg estimated the couple’s assets at $146 billion.
In 2010, the couple and billionaire investor Warren Buffett created the Giving Pledge, a promise to give at least half their wealth to charity, and urged the world’s richest to join them. Over 170 others have so far joined, including Mark Zuckerberg, Mike Bloomberg and George Lucas.
The two have been active throughout the Covid-19 pandemic in encouraging the development of vaccines with grants and publicly abiding by health safety measures.
Through their foundation, which Mr Gates has fully committed to after stepping away from day-to-day operations at Microsoft, the couple has given away more than $50 billion.
The foundation also currently has over $51bn in assets, according to a tax filing cited by CNBC.
The news quickly captured attention on social media as it follows the 2019 divorce of Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Scott.
That split, the largest divorce settlement in history, immediately made Ms Scott one of the world’s richest people.
In the months that followed, she became one of the most influential philanthropists in the world, giving away billions of dollars to often overlooked causes among billionaire donors.
The Gates’s wealth could prove more complex to carve up than the Bezos fortune, which was largely concentrated in Amazon stock.
The former couple met in New York in the 1980s, early into Melinda’s time as a product manager at Microsoft, before they married in Hawaii in 1994.
When deciding whether to marry, Bill made a pro-and-con list on a whiteboard – Melinda related how she walked into his bedroom to find him tabulating various factors in the Netflix documentary series “Inside Bill’s Brain.”
The couple’s philanthropy has always been deeply rooted in their relationship and marriage.
On a trip to Africa during their engagement that the couple decided they would become serious philanthropists.
“We fell in love with everything we saw but it’s really not at all trite to say that we really fell in love with the people,” Melinda Gates said at a Salesforce event in 2016.
“It just started us on this series of questions of sort of saying to ourselves, ‘What is going on here?’”
Later on in the trip, the couple filled out a marriage questionnaire to make sure they had the same values. That’s when they decided “the vast majority of resources from Microsoft would go back to society,” Melinda Gates said.
The day before they wed in Hawaii, Bill’s mother, Mary, who had been trying to convince him to dramatically increase his charity, gave Melinda a letter that closed with the words “From those to whom much is given, much is expected.”
“It was an easy discussion. We just thought it would be later in our lives when we got to do it,” Melinda Gates said.