Bill Gates transferring $1.8B in stock to Melinda in wake of divorce news

Melinda Gates reportedly says in a petition for divorce that "this marriage is irretrievably broken." But they still plan to collaborate on their charitable foundation.

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Abrar Al-Heeti is a technology reporter for CNET, with an interest in phones, streaming, internet trends, entertainment, pop culture and digital accessibility. She's also worked for CNET's video, culture and news teams. She graduated with bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Though Illinois is home, she now loves San Francisco -- steep inclines and all.
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Bill Gates (center) and Melinda Gates (third from left) have poured their collective time, energy and money into their foundation since his retirement from Microsoft.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Bill Gates  and Melinda Gates -- two of the world's most powerful philanthropists -- announced this week they're ending their 27-year marriage. For the past two decades, the pair has pushed for causes ranging from global health to education through their self-named foundation. The couple, along with billionaire investor Warren Buffett, also founded The Giving Pledge, a campaign encouraging wealthy people to give away the bulk of their money.  

According to a May 3 Securities and Exchange Commission filing, an investment firm called Cascade Investment, which is controlled by Bill Gates, transferred more than $1.8 billion in stock to Melinda Gates, Bloomberg reported. That transfer includes more than 14 million shares of Canadian National Railway Co., which are worth around $1.5 billion, and around 2.9 million shares of AutoNation, worth around $309 million.

"After a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage," the Microsoft co-founder shared Monday on Twitter. "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," the tweet continues. "We ask for space and privacy for our family as we begin to navigate this new life."

In a statement, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said the pair would continue to shape the organization's strategies, champion its causes and set its direction. Bill Gates is 65, Melinda Gates is 56. 

A petition for divorce filed by Melinda Gates, posted by Yahoo Finance, notes the couple has a separation agreement, and asks for property and debts to be divided "as set forth in our separation contract." Gates reportedly says in the petition: "This marriage is irretrievably broken. We ask the court to dissolve our marriage and find that our marital community ended on the date stated in our separation contract." 

Jennifer Gates, the couple's oldest daughter, shared a statement via Instagram Stories which reads, in part: "It's been a challenging stretch of time for our whole family. I'm still learning how to best support my own process and emotions as well as family members at this time."

Bill Gates made his fortune through Microsoft, the software giant he co-founded in 1975. He's the world's fourth richest person, with a net worth of $124 billion, according to Forbes. Gates stepped away from his day-to-day role at Microsoft in 2008, and departed the company's board of directors last year to focus on philanthropic efforts.

The couple met shortly after Melinda Gates began working at Microsoft in 1987. They married on January 1, 1994. 

"It took him quite a few months before he finally asked me out," Melinda said during a 2016 interview with Robin Roberts.

A three-part 2019 Netflix documentary called Inside Bill's Brain: Decoding Bill Gates focuses on Bill Gates' post-Microsoft life as philanthropist and co-founder of the Gates Foundation and briefly explores the couple's relationship. 

"She's a lot like me in that she's optimistic and she's interested in science," Bill Gates says in the documentary. "She's better with people than I am. She's a tiny bit less hardcore about knowing immunology than I am."

Melinda Gates added, "We have a lot of humor in our relationship and we can joke about things."

Since 2000, the Gates Foundation has spent $53.8 billion "fighting the greatest inequities in the world," according to the foundation website. In April 2020, the foundation said it was putting its "total attention" on the coronavirus pandemic while remaining committed to its core areas such as reducing infectious disease, eliminating extreme poverty and improving US public education. In May 2020, the foundation pledged $125 million toward the international effort to develop and distribute COVID-19 diagnostics, therapies and vaccines.

Melinda Gates, a longtime gender equality advocate, has also warned about the toll the pandemic is taking on women around the world, from interfering with access to pre- and post-natal care to increasing the weight of family care-related unpaid labor. At this year's South by Southwest conference, she advocated a paid family medical leave policy in the US, which she said is even more critical during the pandemic as some women have had to drop out of the labor force due to caregiving responsibilities.

The news comes two years after Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Scott announced their divorce. A signatory to The Giving Pledge, Scott has since become an active contributor to food banks, emergency funds and services for the vulnerable, giving away $4 billion in one four-month stretch.