They added that together they would continue to run the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, whose mission is 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,” according to the statements.
According to Melinda Gates’s divorce filing, obtained by the gossip website TMZ, the couple signed a separation contract. She is not requesting spousal support. Her filing called the marriage “irretrievably broken.” Bill Gates filed a joinder, meaning he supports the dissolution of the marriage.
The Gateses met at Microsoft, where Melinda worked developing multimedia products for the company. They married in 1994 on the Hawaiian island of Lanai. Melinda left Microsoft in 1996. The couple have three children.
The couple have spent much of the past two decades focused on their foundation. Bill Gates stepped down as chief software architect at Microsoft and gave up his day-to-day duties in 2008 to work full time at the foundation. He stepped down as Microsoft’s chairman in 2014.
Their philanthropy issued nearly $55 billion in total grant payments through the end of 2019, focusing on addressing the inequities in global health and the U.S. education systems.
The end of their marriage comes a little more than two years after another Seattle billionaire, Jeff Bezos, announced that he and his wife at the time, MacKenzie, were divorcing. Bezos, the world’s wealthiest person, founded the e-commerce giant Amazon and owns The Washington Post. Their divorce settlement, a year later, set a record, giving MacKenzie an Amazon stake worth approximately $36 billion at the time.
While the Gates Foundation has long sought to address global inequity, it focused increasingly on how to end the coronavirus pandemic, whose impact is likely to be more profound on the developing world. In the past year, the foundation has committed $1.75 billion as part of its global covid response, funding the development of vaccines, tests, and drugs, supporting efforts to testing and trace those infected, and paying to prepare health systems for rising cases in the developing world.
As the virus raged, Bill Gates, 65, emerged as a leading advocate for science-based approaches to end the pandemic. He studied infectious diseases as part of his philanthropic work and had previously warned about the potential for a pathogen-spread pandemic, notably in a prescient TED Talk in 2015. He also became a target for conspiracy theorists who claim he engineered the pandemic and is mining it for profit and leveraging it for global surveillance and population control.
Melinda Gates, 56, began to emerge from her husband’s shadow as she took a larger role at their philanthropy two decades ago. Along with her father-in-law, Bill Gates Sr., she oversaw the foundation while her husband continued his full-time work at Microsoft. In that time, she traveled the globe to see where the need for the philanthropy was greatest and to set the agenda. She also became a more prominent public figure, speaking about malaria at the White House in 2006 and before the U.N. General Assembly in 2010 about reducing poverty and halting the spread of HIV/AIDS.
While the Gateses often appeared together publicly, they rarely talked about their relationship. Melinda Gates wrote about one stressful moment in her 2019 book, “The Moment of Lift.” She recalled how Bill had written the foundation’s annual letter every year since 2007, something she felt in those early days was too much for her with young kids at home.
In 2012, Melinda brought up the idea of writing the letter, something Bill opposed, she wrote, because he felt the process had been working just fine. But Melinda pressed her case because she felt her voice could also have impact. When they wrote their first letter together, she recalled how difficult it was.
“I thought we were going to kill each other,” Melinda Gates wrote. “I felt, ‘Well, this just might end the marriage right here.’”
They have written the letter jointly since 2014.
In addition to giving away much of their wealth, the Gateses also teamed up with billionaire investor Warren Buffett in 2010 to launch the Giving Pledge, a commitment by superwealthy people to donate at least 50 percent of their money to charity. It has more than 200 signatories.
The Gateses will continue to work together on foundation strategies and direction. In their tweets, the Gateses asked for “space and privacy for our family as we begin to navigate this new life.”