Divorce is a major life event, but it doesn’t have to be financially devastating.
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In a bombshell statement posted on Twitter, Bill and Melinda Gates announced Monday their decision to end their marriage, making this the second high-profile billionaire breakup in two years. Although divorces like these often draw media attention, criticism and sometimes praise, there are lessons women entrepreneurs can draw from the Bezos and Gates separations about personal finance, business and life. Here are four things women can learn from the Bill and Melinda Gates separation.
Related: Bill and Melinda Gates Are Divorcing After More Than 25 Years of Marriage
Separate but equal
Divorce can be the result of exhaustive efforts over time or a quick realization that things are just not working out. Whether planned or unexpected, divorce can have a devastating effect on both parties as the division of assets accumulated during the marriage and before comes into question. According to a 2017 study by The Pew Research Center, husbands out-earn their wives in 69% of heterosexual marriages.
Although this is likely not going to make an impact when dividing billions of dollars, for the average Jane this can mean a large decrease in household income after a divorce. In a partnership where everything is shared, women should still have access to their own assets separate from their spouses; that includes bank and credit accounts. I’ve witnessed nasty divorce scenarios where one party completely emptied the joint account shared with their spouse in the midst of divorce proceedings, leaving the other financially helpless.
Understanding individual and joint financial products is important in the event of an emergency, separation or even an unexpected death. The difference between being an authorized user and a co-borrower on a credit card, for example, means you’ll have different levels of access to the account depending on if it is or isn’t in your name
Own your personal brand
Although she’s the soon-to-be ex-wife of one of the richest men in the world, Melinda Gates does not live in Bill’s shadow. She’s positioned herself as a recognizable brand in her own right by authoring a book, giving speeches and most notably co-founding the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. These accomplishments do not disappear with her separation from her husband. In fact, it might mean she steps further out from behind Bill Gates‘ shadow post-divorce. It’s important for women, especially women entrepreneurs with accomplished husbands, to own and grow their personal brand. Your personal brand allows you to build on previously made connections or to establish new ones. It showcases your skills and talents as a capable leader without the prestige that comes with your last name.
See Related: 5 Lessons I Learned About Entrepreneurship By Overcoming Poverty
Focus on financial education
Melinda Gates and MacKenzie Scott will likely never have money problems, but for the average divorcee, money can be an issue. Without an understanding of basic money management, you will head on a collision course to financial ruin. Financial education is a must, especially during life-changing events like divorce. Your household income might drop by more than half, or you might inherit financial responsibilities that were once taken care of by your spouse. Hiring a financial advisor or coach and taking basic financial literacy classes — if you aren’t already familiar — can be an important, empowering step to take.
Related: MacKenzie Scott, Ex-Wife of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Gave Away More Than $4 billion Over the Last 4 months to Help Those Affected Economically by the Pandemic
Maintain your passions
No matter if you do them together or apart, it’s important to establish and maintain your passions when you get married, and if you end up going through a divorce. In their announcement, Bill and Melinda Gates indicated that they will continue their work at the foundation they founded together. A divorce can put a damper on things, and focusing on your passions or developing new ones can be the spark you need to help you work through it. With your newfound independence, it’s likely you will be more inclined to try new things and accept new challenges, which make you feel on top of the world — even when you’re going through a life-altering time.