Melinda Gates could soon become the second richest woman in the world

Melinda Gates attends the G7 Finance meeting in Chantilly, north of Paris, in 2019. Photograph: Michel Euler/AP
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Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda announced on Monday via joint twitter account that they are ending their marriage of 27 years. Shortly after the announcement, Melinda filed a petition for divorce at King County superior court in Seattle, Washington.

She told the court in the divorce petition that her marriage to the multibillionaire Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates had “irretrievably broken”.

In the divorce petition, Melinda French Gates – as she now appears to want to be known after updating her social media profiles – asked for the couple’s combined $146bn (£105bn) fortune to be split 50-50.

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The 50-50 split is likely because the divorce petition document also reveals that the couple – who married in 1994, did not sign a prenuptial agreement. Under the Washington state law divorcing, couples are expected to share their assets equally when there is no prenuptial agreement.

If their wealth is shared equally, Melinda French Gates – a philanthropist and campaigner for female empowerment, will become the second richest woman in the world, standing only behind Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, the 67-year-old L’Oreal owner, whose inherited fortune is now worth about $83bn, according to Forbes.

With a total wealth of about $146bn, Bill Gates is currently ranked as the fourth richest man in the world, according to the Bloomberg billionaires index. However, he would be far richer – and perhaps still the world’s richest person – if he had not already given away at least $40bn to the couple’s charity, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Questions have been raised about how the pair will continue to run their charity, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as a team, which is what they have said is their intention.

Prof Henry Peter, head of the Geneva Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Geneva, told the Financial Times on Tuesday the separation could lead to a total restructure.

In the meantime, Bill Gates has hired the law firm founded by Warren Buffett’s right-hand man to help lead the $146 billion divorce from his wife Melinda.

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