The Real Reason Bill Gates Is Getting Divorced

After years of working closely both professionally and as a married couple, Bill Gates and Melinda Gates announced their separation on May 3.

Bill and Melinda presented as a remarkably stable partnership for the bulk of their time in the spotlight. Bill, as the founder of Microsoft, made billions, and Melinda remained steadfast by his side, co-founding and running the eponymous Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which provides support for such wide-ranging causes as public radio to medical advances.

Despite their world-famous charity and united front, Bill and Melinda were deeply private, only appearing in the headlines for charity work or Microsoft news. Mostly, they seemed like a committed couple whose problems were no greater than their joint philanthropic veneers and raising their three kids. It came as a shock to learn of their intention to divorce. Bill and Melinda posted a joint statement to their Twitter account — here's what they had to say.

Bill and Melinda Gates are on different paths

The year 2020 was a turning point for Bill and Melinda Gates. Bill stepped down from Microsoft (he kept the $26 billion worth of stock, though) to focus on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which he co-chairs with his wife. However, the move evidently did not bring them closer together, as they announced their intention to divorce in May, per CNBC.

Bill and Melinda shared a lengthy statement explaining the situation to their millions of Twitter followers. "After a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage," the joint statement read. "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."

The statement further addressed any questions over the fate of the foundation but left details of the couple's billion-dollar fortune up for debate, as well as hinted at the reason for their split. "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."

Bill and Melinda Gates have weathered relationship struggles before

According to The New York Times, this isn't the first time Bill and Melinda Gates have experienced a rocky patch in their marriage — though clearly, this is the most serious setback. Inside sources revealed to the outlet that "there were several times when the relationship neared collapse, but they worked to keep it together." These previous struggles may have fueled Bill's decision to step down from Microsoft's Board in 2020 in order to prioritize his family life over his work. 

Melinda also alluded to some less-than-idyllic moments in the couple's marriage in a 2019 interview with the Sunday Times of London, even sharing Bill's indecision about getting married in the first place. "When he was having trouble making the decision about getting married, he was incredibly clear that it was not about me, it was about, 'Can I get the balance right between work and family life?'" she shared. "And, believe me, I can remember some days that were so incredibly hard in our marriage where you thought, 'Can I do this?'" While we're left in the dark about the couple's specific challenges, it seems that the split may have been coming for a while.

What will happen to the Gates Foundation?

While any high-profile divorce raises questions about how exes will divide up their fortunes and assets, Bill and Melinda Gates' split has far-reaching consequences. As two of the wealthiest people in the world, many are wondering what will happen to their wealth, "much of which has not yet been donated to the Gates Foundation," The New York Times reports. "The Gates Foundation is the most important and influential philanthropic entity in the world today," Rob Reich, a professor of political science at Stanford University told The New York Times. Furthermore, "Since the Gates Foundation is a family foundation and the Gateses are breaking apart their family, the divorce may have huge repercussions for the foundation and for its work across the globe."

For decades, Bill has been motivated to give away the majority of his wealth during his lifetime. In 2010, he and billionaire Warren Buffet created "The Giving Pledge," where wealthy individuals commit to donating their money (via USA Today). As of this writing, it's still unknown how Bill and Melinda's assets will be handled in the divorce, and in what direction the Gates Foundation is headed.