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The Most Expensive Divorces in History

Who gets the Picasso, the stock shares, the pussycats, and all that cash

Divorces make headlines for different reasons. Sometimes it’s because the couples involved are famous. Or the proceedings are acrimonious. Or the causes for the split are especially salacious (“She caught him doing what?”).

Usually, though, a divorce becomes news because of money—specifically, the sums to be divvied up in the breakup. (Of course, if more than one of these conditions applies, it doesn’t hurt.) The end of Bill and Melinda Gates’ 27-year marriage is the most recent case in point. Given that Gates was worth about $130 billion when the divorce was announced, and the couple lives in the community property state of Washington, an equal split of assets could make theirs one of the largest divorce settlements on record.

While we wait for the Gates divorce to be settled, let's look at some of the most expensive divorces in history (as each was touted at the time) going by the official settlement amount paid by one spouse to another (and listed in descending order). So far, the recipient spouse has always been the wife, with one possible exception.

The Most Expensive Divorces in History

Investopedia / Alison Czinkota

Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Scott

Because Amazon Inc. founder Jeff Bezos was the richest man in the world at the time, it’s fitting that his divorce registers as possibly the most expensive in the world. His ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott, received approximately $35 to $36 billion when the pair parted ways in 2019. (Because her portion was primarily in Amazon stock, the figure has varied a bit, depending on the shares’ value when it’s estimated.) As billionaire breakups go, this one was pretty amicable—the couple exchanged mutually appreciative messages on Twitter—and was swiftly resolved out of court.

Alec and Jocelyn Wildenstein

Alec Wildenstein was a French-born, American-raised art dealer and racehorse owner. His wife, Jocelyn, was a socialite and frequent plastic surgery patient (nicknamed “Catwoman" because she cultivated an increasingly feline appearance). Theirs was a relatively quiet life, by New York City socialite standards at least, until they decided to divorce in the mid-1990s. Finalized in 1999 after two years of negotiations, the settlement awarded Jocelyn a flat $2.3 billion, plus $100 million for the next 13 years. The final amount came to $3.8 billion—with none of it to be spent on cosmetic surgery, the court decreed.

Rupert and Anna Murdoch

After three decades and three children together, media tycoon Rupert Murdoch—executive chairman of News Corp (NWS) and co-chairman of Fox Corporation (FOX) —and his wife, Anna, née Anna Torv, decided to call it a day. The proceedings started out as amicable but turned a little testy. Perhaps Murdoch’s relationship with TV journalist Wendi Deng, whom he married 17 days after the divorce was finalized in 1999, had something to do with it. Anna herself remarried six months after the decree, enriched by $1.7 billion (including $110 million in cash). Deng and Murdoch called it quits in 2013 after 14 years of marriage, settling amicably out of court with the terms undisclosed, thanks to one prenuptial and two postnuptial agreements. Murdoch, however, took the plunge again in 2016, marrying Mick Jagger's ex, Jerry Hall, so he still has a chance to top his most expensive divorce.

Bill and Sue Gross

The divorce between “Bond King” Bill Gross, co-founder of Pacific Investment Management Company (PIMCO) and manager of the Janus Henderson Global Unconstrained Bond Fund, and Sue, his wife of 31 years, was an especially bitter one. Custody of every one of the couple’s assets was contested, from their Laguna Beach manse (valued at $36 million) to their Picasso painting (later sold for $35 million) to their trio of pet cats (priceless). Sue prevailed with the Picasso and the pussies, part of a settlement that ended up amounting to $1.3 billion (roughly half of Gross’ then-net worth) in 2017.

Bernie Ecclestone and Slavica Radić

The Formula One fortune was at stake when the marriage of Bernie Ecclestone, the then-CEO of the motor racing corporation, and fashion model Slavica Radić decided to part ways. Finalized in 2009, the settlement gave Radić an estimated £730 million, around $1.2 billion back then. It was an amicable divorce—and by some accounts an unusual one because she seems to be paying him back roughly $100 million a year, reflecting the fact that many of his assets were actually held in trust in her name to avoid Britain’s steep inheritance taxes.

Harold Hamm and Sue Ann Arnall

Commencing in 2012, the divorce proceedings between Continental Resources (CLR) Chairman and CEO Harold Hamm and his wife, Sue Ann Arnall, dragged on for three years—about one-eighth of the length of their marriage. Finally, after an Oklahoma district court ordered Hamm to pay $1 billion in cash and assets, Hamm wrote her a check for $974.8 million. After some wavering, she deposited it early in 2015. She later sued for more—an appeal that was rejected by the court because she had accepted the check. However, Hamm had already paid out $20 million during the case, so her final payout did come to nearly $1 billion.

Steve and Elaine Wynn

The Las Vegas–based power couple, known for co-founding casino conglomerate Wynn Resorts (WYNN), had actually divorced once before—but it was their 2010 split that stuck. As part of the settlement, Elaine received 11 million shares of Wynn Resorts stock plus some cash from Steve. The final tally varies, depending on how you value the shares, but overall, her take came to approximately $909 million.

Adnan and Soraya Khashoggi

Adnan Khashoggi—entrepreneur, arms trader, and symbol of 1970s and 1980s high life (“The Gatsby of the Middle East” was one of his nicknames)—and his wife, Soraya (née Sandra Daly), agreed to divorce in 1974, but it took until 1979 for her to seek $2.54 billion in compensation (she claimed he was threatening to take the children and reneging on their deal to keep her in the style to which she’d become accustomed). He eventually settled $874 million on her in 1982—on paper, anyway. She later claimed to have received only $2 million.

Article Sources
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  1. Forbes. "#4 Bill Gates."

  2. Forbes. "How the Gates’ Split Could Stack up Against the Biggest Billionaire Divorces."

  3. The New York Times. "Jeff Bezos, Amazon C.E.O., and MacKenzie Bezos Finalize Divorce Details."

  4. People. “The Famous Life and Face of Jocelyn Wildenstein.”

  5. ABC News. “Divorce Has a Hefty Price Tag for Celebrities, Billionaires.”

  6. The New York Times. "Rupert and Wendi Murdoch Reach a Divorce Settlement."

  7. BBC. "Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall Marry."

  8. Reuters. “Wife of Billionaire Pimco Co-Founder Bill Gross Files for Divorce.”

  9. The Sunday Times. “Slavica Ecclestone Net Worth — Sunday Times Rich List 2020.”

  10. Celebrity Net Worth. “Slavica Ecclestone Net Worth.”

  11. Forbes. “Harold Hamm's $975 Million Divorce Check: First Rejected, Then Cashed, Now Taxed."

  12. Reuters. “Harold Hamm Offers $975 million Divorce Check; Ex-wife Rejects It.”

  13. CNBC. “Bezos to Join Exclusive Club: The World’s 10 Most Expensive Divorce Settlements."

  14. Vanity Fair. “Khashoggi’s Fall.”

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