Even the most publicly perfect marriages can have private problems. Bill and Melinda Gates are the perfect example of that. Their divorce after 27 years of marriage was initially scandal-free, but that didn’t last long. It quickly became clear that the divorce was the result of a two-year-long process that began in 2019.
What happened in 2019? The New York Times ran an article that went into depth about the relationship between Bill Gates and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. It became apparent that the two had spent time together regularly. Bill visited Epstein’s home on several occasions after Epstein had already become a convicted sex offender.
That’s when Melinda Gates first reached out to divorce attorneys. She had been uncomfortable with Epstein since 2013, and the article was the last straw. It wasn’t the only contributing factor to the separation, however.
It has become clear that Bill Gates had at least one affair during his marriage. He also pursued several other women at Microsoft during his marriage to Melinda. While she was evidently willing to forgive those indiscretions, Bill’s poor decisions regarding Epstein were a step too far.
The Gates divorce is by no means the only marriage that’s ended because of outside relationships. A quarter of all divorces involve an affair that the cheated-on partner knows about. Family strains like the Gates’ disagreement about Epstein cause an additional 18% of splits.
If you’re considering divorce because of your spouse’s infidelity or other relationships, you’re not alone. Here’s what you need to know about how these divorces work and what to expect in your separation.
The Impact of Outside Relationships on a Marriage
Your spouse is supposed to be one of the most important people in your life. If you treat your marriage as your most important relationship and they don’t return the favor, it can hurt. That’s why affairs and family strains are such common roots of divorces.
If your partner prioritizes other people over your relationship, they show that they don’t respect you. That’s equally true whether they have an affair or spend time with a person you don’t trust, as Gates did with Epstein. Even family relationships can cause problems; conflict with in-laws is cited in more than 11% of separations.
Any of these issues can leave you feeling betrayed. If you’ve always put your spouse first, it can feel like the rug has been pulled out from underneath you. It’s natural to feel like your partner owes you something for their actions. The problem is determining whether the law will support you.
Affairs and California’s Divorce Laws
Historically, divorce could only be granted “for cause.” The person filing the request had to have proof of a reason for the split. Grounds for legal separations included abuse, felonious activity, and, yes, affairs.
The other party was considered “at fault” and was often penalized. Essentially, the person who had an affair could lose some of the marital assets because they were the reason for the separation.
Today, that’s no longer the case. In California, all divorces are considered “no-fault” separations. That means that the reasons for a split aren’t considered by the court. Both partners are supposed to be treated equally by the court, regardless of who filed and why.
This includes dividing the assets. California is a “community property” state. Both partners are considered to split ownership of all assets they acquire during their marriage. When a couple splits, the court divides the assets and gives each party half. That’s in contrast to e “equitable distribution” states, where the higher-earning partner typically receives more than half of the marital assets in a divorce.
For obvious reasons, many wronged spouses disagree with California’s laws. People who feel betrayed by their partner often feel like they deserve compensation for their partner’s actions. Meanwhile, the higher-earning partner often feels like they should get to retain more of the assets.
Unfortunately, if a divorce goes to court, the judge is legally barred from deciding anything other than a 50/50 split of assets. However, there are alternatives available to couples who can still talk to each other.
How Mediation Can Help in Divorces
Not every divorce has to be decided by a judge. If you’re still willing to talk with your soon-to-be-ex, you can consider mediation instead.
During mediation, you and your spouse work with a mediator to decide how a divorce will proceed. The mediator makes suggestions and offers solutions but doesn’t make legally binding decisions. The pair of you work together with your attorneys to develop a separation agreement that’s satisfactory to everyone. If you can’t work together, then you’ll need to go to court, but you lose nothing by attempting to negotiate.
If a couple goes through the mediation process instead of court, they can choose how to divide their assets. That includes choosing to split them other than 50/50. That means that mediation can be a way to get closure on your relationship and find an equitable asset split.
For example, if your spouse’s affair is the reason why your marriage is ending, you can bring that up during mediation. If your partner feels remorse for their actions, they may be willing to make concessions on certain elements. You may be able to leverage their actions to keep ownership of a joint home or vehicle or to avoid splitting marital debts.
Keep Your Self-Respect in Your Divorce
Mediation only works if you’re able to compromise, of course. In the Bill and Melinda Gates divorce, it appears that they were able to negotiate and work together despite their split. That negotiation kept the divorce relatively quick and painless while leaving Melinda in an excellent place to start her new life.
If your partner has had affairs or other relationships that have broken your trust, know you’re not alone. You deserve to keep your self-respect, even if your partner hasn’t respected you. Reach out to an experienced divorce attorney to discuss your case. They can help you find the solution that works best in your marriage. You have little to lose and everything to gain.