Super-rich Amazon billionaire and wife to split - how will they divide their $137bn fortune?

Seattle — Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, are divorcing, ending a 25-year marriage that played a role in the creation of an e-commerce company that made Bezos one of the world's wealthiest people.

The decision to divorce comes after a trial separation, according to a statement posted on Wednesday on Jeff Bezos' Twitter account. He and his wife both signed the announcement, which ended with a vow to remain "cherished friends."

READ THE FULL STATEMENT HERE: 

While the statement offers no explanation for the divorce, TMZ reports that a relationship is what led to the divorce.

According to Us Weekly, Bezos started seeing So You Think You Can Dance host Lauren Sanchez late last year. But while both Bezos and Sanchez had already separated from their marital partners, their respective spouses were only recently made aware of the relationship.

Also left unanswered is one of the biggest sticking points in any divorce: How the assets amassed during the marriage will be divided.

And there may never have been more money than in this case.

Jeff Bezos is ranked at the top of most lists of the world's wealthiest people, and his fortune currently hovers around $137bn, according to estimates by both Forbes and Bloomberg. Virtually all of that is tied up in the nearly 79 million shares of Amazon stock (currently worth about $130bn) that Bezos owns in the Seattle company, translating into a 16 percent stake. Bezos, 54, also owns rocket ship maker Blue Origin and The Washington Post, which he bought for $250m in 2013.

Because the pair were married before Amazon was founded, it's likely that MacKenzie Bezos holds a large claim to that fortune, though details hinge on where the couple files for divorce and if they had a prenuptial agreement.

King County, where their home is located, confirmed on Twitter on Wednesday that the Bezoses had not filed for divorce in court. The couple own a home in a wealthy Seattle suburb within the county. The former couple have four children.

"The property acquired during the marriage is common property," said Jennifer Payseno, a family lawyer at the firm McKinley Irvin in Seattle. That includes stock ownership, although Amazon has not filed any regulatory documents to suggest Bezos' stake in the company has changed.

NOT A PUBLIC DIVORCE

All that power and wealth has magnified the focus on Jeff Bezos, although his divorce seems unlikely to enthrall the public like high-profile breakups among movie stars such as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Or even those of other billionaires, such as Donald Trump's tabloid-fodder split with his former wife Ivana in the early 1990s, long before he was elected president.

But the Bezos divorce seems likely to attract more attention than when Google co-founder Sergey Brin — currently worth $49bn — divorced his former wife Anne in 2015.

The amicable tenor of the Bezoses' divorce announcement makes it highly likely that the couple already has reached an agreement on how to divide their assets, Payseno said.

HOW AMAZON STARTED

Amazon's origins trace back to a road trip that the Bezoses took together not long after they met in New York while working at hedge fund D.E. Shaw. They got married just six months after they began dating, according to Bezos.

Not long after that, Jeff Bezos quit his job at Shaw and started an online bookstore. While his wife did the cross-country driving, Bezos wrote a business plan on the way to Seattle — chosen for its abundance of tech talent. By July 1995, Amazon was operating out of a garage, with MacKenzie Bezos lending a hand, according to a review she posted on Amazon in 2013 panning The Everything Store, a book about Bezos and the company written by Brad Stone.

"I was there when he wrote the business plan, and I worked with him and many others represented in the converted garage, the basement warehouse closet, the barbecue-scented offices, the Christmas-rush distribution centres, and the door-desk filled conference rooms in the early years of Amazon's history," she recalled.

Amazon has since evolved from an upstart website selling books to an e-commerce goliath that sells virtually all imaginable merchandise and runs data centers that power many other digital services such as Netflix. It also has become a leader in intelligent voice-activated speakers with its Echo products, which are emerging as command centres for internet-connected homes — and a gateway to buying more stuff from Amazon.