Bill Gates and his wife Melinda did not sign a prenuptial agreement to divide their fortune, which includes properties in five states, a private jet, an art collection and a fleet of luxury cars.
The divorce papers filed by Melinda in Washington and obtained by the Daily Mail show Melinda did not ask for spousal support and has requested a trial date in April 2022.
However, it is unlikely the divorce will go to trial with the former couple referring to a separation contract, which includes information on finances pertaining to two of the couple's children.
The pair own a private jet and a number of properties including their main home in Washington and houses in California, Florida, Wyoming and Massachusetts. Their family home is a 6100 square metre mansion, which was purchased for US$2 million ($2.78 million) and was redesigned over seven years at a cost of US$63 million. It is now worth an estimated US$125 million ($174 million) and features seven bedrooms, a reported 18 bathrooms, an art-deco cinema, a dining room that can seat 24, an indoor-outdoor pool with an underwater music system, an artificial stream stocked with salmon and trout and reportedly a beach with imported sand.
There's also a trampoline room, a reception hall that can seat 150 people for dinner or 200 for a cocktail party, a library with secret pivoting bookcases with a bar hidden inside one.
The Gates also count a US$59 million ($82 million) ranch in Florida and a Wyoming ranch worth US$9 million ($12.5 million) in their property portfolio, which has five bedrooms, three bathrooms, a guesthouse, caretaker's house, dairy cabin, stable and a hut located in the middle of a lake.
Two homes in California, one with a racetrack, orchard and fives barns with spaces for 50 hours was purchased for US$18 million ($25 million) and another for US$43 million ($60 million) features six bedrooms and four bathrooms.
Bill is a car lover and owns a Porsche 930 Turbo, a Jaguar XJ6, a Ferrari 348 and a rare Porsche 959, which was held up for 13 years by US customs. Most recently, he purchased an electric car, the Porsche Taycan.
The former couple announced their split over three decades after their romance blossomed at Microsoft, the company he co-founded that made him a billionaire.
The former couple met at Microsoft in 1987 after Melinda started working there as a product manager, hitting it off when they sat next to each other at a work dinner. Melinda said it took him quite a few months to ask her out.
The two married in Hawaii in 1994, seven years after meeting. He was 38 at the time and she was 29, and the couple went on to have three children together: Jennifer, 25, Rory, 21, and Phoebe, 18.
Bill Gates, 65, is the fourth richest person in the world, and is estimated to be worth US$130.5 billion ($181.6 billion), according to Forbes, after he became the world's youngest self-made billionaire when Microsoft went public in 1986.
Bloomberg's Billionaire's Index values Gate's fortune even higher at US$145.8 ($202.9 billion). The couple's divorce comes after 27 years of marriage.
When the pair met, they reportedly shared a love of puzzles, while Melinda enjoyed beating Bill at maths games, although the relationship wasn't serious at the start.
"She had other boyfriends, and I had Microsoft," said Gates.
"We were like, 'Hey we are not really serious about each other, are we? We are not going to demand each other's time.'"
"I was new to Microsoft, there were a lot of men there, and you are still looking around," Melinda Gates added.
When Melinda fell pregnant with their first child, Bill was shocked when she declared she was not going to continue working at Microsoft and would stay at home to be a full time mum.
She said she didn't have an example of working mothers while growing up in Dallas, although her mum led a small real estate investment set up by her parents.
"The other thing that played into it – I mean, we have to be honest: Bill was the CEO of Microsoft, right? That is a hard-charging tech industry. That was a very fast-growing company.
"I kept saying to him, 'But somebody has to be home. If we want the values that we both believe in as a couple for the kids, somebody has to be home to instil those values,'" she told Business Insider Australia in 2019.
"But then my view changed over time when I felt like I had created the environment where I could give my kids privacy and let them grow up to be themselves. We had the values, we had people around us who were also imparting those same values that we had. Then I felt, like, 'OK, I do want to work, and I will be a working mum'."
Throughout the marriage, Melinda said Bill and her would always do the dishes together after dinner.
"In the case of Melinda, it is a truly equal partner," Bill Gates said in the 2019 Netflix documentary Inside Bill's Brain. "She's a lot like me in that she is optimistic and she is interested in science.
"She is better with people than I am. She's a tiny bit less hardcore about knowing, you know, immunology, than I am."
Just last year on Valentine's Day, Bill had posted a picture of the two of them with the caption "I couldn't ask for a better partner on this journey."
Two of the most influential philanthropists
The former couple's charitable organisation the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which was set up in 2000, has spent US$53.8 billion ($74.9 billion) on philanthropic projects since starting.
Gates stepped down as CEO of Microsoft in 2008 to focus on the foundation and left the tech giant's board in May 2020.
When announcing the divorce, the pair said they will continue to work together on the foundation, which aims to improve global health, combat climate change, bolster US education, and create equal opportunities for people around the world.
Last year, the foundation pledged US$1.75 billion ($2.43 billion) over two years to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
Since January 2021, the couple have given over US$29 billion ($40 billion) to philanthropic causes, according to Forbes, while the foundation has a trust endowment of almost US$50 billion ($69.5 billion).
Melinda Gates, 56, has degrees in computer science and economics as well as an MBA. She spent 10 years working at Microsoft before leaving to focus "on her family and philanthropic work", according to the foundation's website.
She said she loved working at Microsoft because "we were changing the world", but she found the culture "aggressive" and two years in she questioned whether she wanted to stay with the company, reported Business Insider Australia. She decided to create her own culture and see what happened.
Since leaving Microsoft and raising her children, she has launched an investment company that backs social progress projects, called Pivotal Ventures, and also wrote a book called The Moment of Lift about inspirational women she has met through her charity work.
It also documented her childhood, life and private struggles as the wife of a high profile billionaire.
The power of breaking poverty was a major theme of the book.
"Poverty is not being able to protect your family," she wrote. "Poverty is not being able to save your children when mothers with more money could.
"And because the strongest instinct of a mother is to protect her children, poverty is the most disempowering force on earth. The most unjust thing is for children to die because their parents are too poor."
How the money will be divided
The former couple are not the first high profile billionaire husband and wife to break up.
Amazon billionaire Jezz Bezos announced his separation from MacKenzie Scott in 2019, with a settlement of US$32 billion ($44.5 billion) reached at the time, mainly made up of the tech giant's stock.
But dividing their assets may be more difficult when it comes to the Gates fortune as most of Bill's money is tied up with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, according to the Australian Financial Review.
The Microsoft founder also owns a holding company, called Cascade Investments, which has interests in real estate, energy and hospitality as well as stakes in public companies such as Canadian National Railway and tractor-maker Deere & Co.
He created Breakthrough Energy, an initiative to slow climate change in 2015.
Forbes reports that Bill owns over just 1 per cent of shares in Microsoft, which are reportedly worth more than US$26 billion ($36 billion).