It seems that the split between Bill and Melinda Gates has been looming for some time, with new reports revealing Melinda Gates contacted divorce lawyers two years ago about separating from her billionaire husband.
The 56-year-old has reportedly been in contact with several law firms since 2019 regarding her marriage to Bill, with people familiar with the matter and documents revealing Melinda Gates said the couple's relationship was "irretrievably broken", according to The Wall Street Journal.
The couple announced last week that they were divorcing after 27 years of marriage, revealing in a joint statement that they had been battling to save their relationship for some time.
"After a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage," they said.
"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 our 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."
While the couple haven't announced what prompted their split, a former employee of the their charity, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told the WSJ that Melinda Gates had concerns about her husband's interactions with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
The publication claimed her concerns about Gates' dealings with the financier dated as far back as 2013 when the couple met Epstein.
The former employee told the WSJ the Microsoft founder continued his relationship with Epstein despite Melinda telling her husband she was uncomfortable with the man.
Epstein died in jail in August 2019 while awaiting trial for multiple sex-trafficking charges.
In 2019, the New York Times reported that Bill Gates had met with Epstein on multiple occasions and once stayed late into the night at his Manhattan townhouse.
It is understood Melinda Gates held a number of calls in October 2019 following the New York Times report.
That same year, Bridgitt Arnold, a spokesperson for Gates, said he "regrets" his meetings with Epstein, which were reportedly to discuss philanthropy.
"Bill Gates regrets ever meeting with Epstein and recognises it was an error in judgment to do so," Arnold said at the time.
Book reveals details of marriage struggles
Melinda Gates lifted the lid on some of the struggles within her marriage in her 2019 book, The Moment of Lift.
The pair reportedly clashed over the handling of the Gates Foundation, with the 56-year-old revealing her desire to take over more responsibility alongside her already globally renowned husband, admitting it was "hard to be heard".
"I've been trying to find my voice as I've been speaking next to Bill, and that can make it hard to be heard," she wrote.
She said a request to co-author the annual Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation letter, usually written solely by her husband, brought particular strain on their 27-year marriage.
"I thought we were going to kill each other," she wrote.
"I felt, 'Well, this just might end the marriage right here.'
"I told him that there are some issues where my voice can make an impact, and in those cases, I should be speaking — separately or along with him.
"It got hot. We both got angry. It was a big test for us — not about how you come to agreement but about what you do when you can't agree. And we took a long time to agree."
How much money is at stake?
Gates' net worth is listed by Forbes as $181 billion, making him the world's fourth richest man behind Jeff Bezos ($272b), Bernard Arnault ($254b) and Elon Musk ($231b).
The Gates' divorce comes two years after Bezos, the founder of online retailer Amazon, finalised his split from his wife of 25 years, MacKenzie Scott.
That divorce ended in a massive settlement. Bezos gave Scott a quarter of their joint stocks in Amazon, worth about $44b at the time, with the Gates' settlement tipped to top that.
The same day the couple announced their divorce, Gates' investment firm, Cascade Investment, transferred US$1.8b ($2.47b) in stock to his wife.
A securities filing revealed more than 14 million shares of Canadian National Railway was transferred to Melinda Gates last week.
On the same day, the firm transferred more than 2.9 million shares of AutoNation to Melinda, a separate filing showed.
The transfers are among the first indications of how one of the world's wealthiest couples will go about divvying up their assets as they separate.
The couple's divorce petition, which was filed on Monday in King County Superior Court in Washington state, indicated that they don't have a prenuptial agreement in place to distribute their assets.
Instead, the two have signed a separation contract for dividing their property and possessions, but the terms of that agreement have not been publicly disclosed in court documents.