By Andrew Keshner
First, the news broke that billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN -1.43% founder Jeff Bezos, was divorcing her second husband, Dan Jewett, a former science teacher, after less than two years of marriage.
Then came the news that Perry Greene, the husband of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican Georgia congresswoman, was seeking a divorce after 27 years of marriage.
Both cases were filed in states with very different divorce laws and, unlike the Greenes, Scott brought billions of dollars into her life with Jewett. But they have one important thing in common: Scott and Greene have avoided airing any dirty laundry and, in their divorce filings at least, their splits remain cordial.
There’s a clear reference to a “separation contract” between Scott and Jewett, according to the King County, Wash., Superior Court divorce petition. Scott is now worth $33.9 billion following her 2019 divorce from Bezos, according to Forbes.
Washington state law explains a “ separation contract, ” among other things, can discuss “the disposition of any property owned by both or either” of the spouses. Washington is one of the few remaining “community property” states where assets acquired before the marriage are deemed separate property, and assets acquired during the marriage are regarded as “marital” or “community property.”
Georgia — where the Greenes filed for divorce — is an “equitable-distribution state,” meaning assets are divided equitably, if not equally, depending on a number of factors, including the conduct of the spouses during the marriage, assets/debts, earning capacity and retirement needs. Assets acquired before the marriage are also typically treated as separate property.
Mr. Greene’s divorce papers do not explicitly mention a prenuptial agreement, laying out what happens next for the couple’s income and debts. Instead, Mr. Greene’s filing in Floyd County, Ga., Superior Court, asks the court for “a fair and equitable division of the marital assets” and also, “equitably divided” marital debts.
To be sure, it does not necessarily mean the Greenes lacked a prenuptial pact. But if there was one that Mr. Greene wanted enforced, he would likely reference it in the divorce petition, one Georgia divorce law expert said.
“Normally, if you feel pretty good about the prenup that you’ve got, you’ll say something about it in the complaint,” said attorney Robert Boyd, founding shareholder of Boyd Collar Nolen Tuggle & Roddenberry, an Atlanta-based law firm exclusively focused on matrimonial law.
“It’s almost without exception, particularly if you want it enforced, you’re going to say something about it,” he added.
The law office representing Mr. Greene declined to comment.
Put the divorces aside and Scott and Greene may share little in common, especially given the states in which they were filed. But the cases were filed at a time when there has been a rise in prenuptial agreements, particularly among younger Americans.
Of course, with billions to her name and a charitable vision, it is not at all surprising that Scott would have a separation contract to clearly stake out her property, and the property of her former partner, Dan Jewett, a former school teacher.
Scott’s first husband, Jeff Bezos, is one of richest men in the world, just behind Tesla /zigman2/quotes/203558040/lastsale TSLA +0.08% founder Elon Musk who occupies the No. 1 spot. His 2019 divorce from Scott helped to knock him off the No. 1 spot.
But these days, you don’t need to be on the Forbes rich list make such a maneuver.
There were 15% of married or engaged people saying they signed a prenuptial agreement, according to a Harris Poll. In a similar survey from 2010, just 3% of people told Harris pollsters they signed one. Crucially, prenups encourage couples to be fully transparent about their plans — and their finances.
Even more people like the idea of a document laying out how to carve — and keep — assets ahead of any split. More than four in ten people (42%) supported the use of prenuptial agreements, the Harris Poll showed. That’s up from 28% in 2002, Harris noted.
The prenup support is especially on display with younger couples , the survey said. Though 32% of unmarried poll participants said they’d likely sign a prenuptial agreement ahead of marriage, more than half (52%) of Gen Z poll participants and 40% of millennial survey participants said they’d sign one.
As Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch’s financial advice columnist, points out in his Moneyist column: “Marriage is many things, but it is also a business contract in addition to a commitment to spend the rest of your lives together — or, at the very least, a show of willingness to do that.”
“There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to prenuptial agreements. It really depends on what each party believes is fair,” he adds. “The art of a prenup is to balance compassionate and supportive issues with financial ones.”
Years earlier, another survey found younger couples eyeing the marriage contracts. In 2016, half of divorce lawyers polled by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers said they were hearing more requests from millennial clients for prenuptial agreements.
Prenuptial agreements have “become more mainstream than it used to be,” Boyd told MarketWatch. Several years ago, Boyd’s firm would work out 10 to 15 prenuptial agreements annually. Now, it’s more like two or three prenups each month, he said.
The documents might unearth a thorny mix of love, money and family, but Boyd said in his experience they have become less of a point of tension when clients seek them. “It’s common for parents to insist on there being a prenup,” he added.
From Boyd’s view, prenuptial agreements are increasingly popular because more people are getting married later in life, after they’ve had more time to build careers and amass their own assets while single.
Another reason: When second marriages come together, many future spouses don’t want to go through another process of divvying up the marital estate, he added.
Though Mr. Greene’s divorce papers say the marriage is “irretrievably broken” — boilerplate legal language — the Greenes released upbeat statements.
“Together, Perry and I formed our family and raised three great kids. He gave me the best job title you can ever earn: Mom. I’ll always be grateful for how great of a dad he is to our children. This is a private and personal matter and I ask that the media respect our privacy at this time,” Rep. Greene said in a statement.
“As we go on different paths we will continue to focus on our three incredible kids and their future endeavors and our friendship,” Mr. Greene said in his own statement.