Bill and Melinda Gates Are Divorcing

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Bill and Melinda Gates, two of the richest people in the world, who reshaped philanthropy and public health with the fortune Mr. Gates made as a co-founder of Microsoft, said on Monday that they were divorcing.

For decades, Mr. and Ms. Gates have been singular forces on the world stage, their vast wealth affording them access to the highest levels of government, business and the nonprofit sector. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with an endowment of some $50 billion, has vast influence in fields ranging from global health to early childhood education. And over the past year, the couple has been especially visible, regularly commenting on the worldwide fight against Covid-19 as their foundation spent more than $1 billion to combat the pandemic.

“After a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage,” Mr. and Ms. Gates said in a statement that was posted to Twitter.

Mr. and Ms. Gates went on to say that they had “built a foundation that works all over the world to enable all people to lead healthy, productive lives” but that they “no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives.”

The divorce will create new questions about the fate of the Gates fortune, much of which has not yet been donated to the Gates Foundation. Mr. Gates, who co-founded Microsoft, is one of the richest people in the world, worth an estimated $124 billion, according to Forbes. The Gateses have been married for 27 years and have three children.

“The Gates Foundation is the most important and influential philanthropic entity in the world today,” said Rob Reich, a professor of political science at Stanford University. “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.”

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May 3, 2021, 3:53 p.m. ET

With 1,600 staffers in offices around the world, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gives away roughly $5 billion annually in areas like global public health and development. The foundation tapped its expertise and relationships to play a significant role in formulating the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic, investing early in vaccine candidates and helping shape Covax, the global initiative organizing the purchase of vaccines for 92 poor countries and dozens of other nations.

“Bill and Melinda Gates helped pioneer big philanthropy in its present form,” said David Callahan, founder of Inside Philanthropy. “Everything has been outsized.”

Last year, Mr. Gates stepped down from the Microsoft board of directors, as well as from the board of Berkshire Hathaway, the conglomerate run by his close friend Warren Buffett.

Mr. Buffett has donated billions of dollars to the Gates Foundation over the years, and has pledged to leave the majority of his fortune to the foundation when he dies. In 2010, Mr. Buffett and the Gateses created the Giving Pledge, an effort to get wealthy individuals to commit to donate a majority of their money to charitable causes.

Mr. and Ms. Gates have faced relationship struggles over the past several years, two people close to them said. There were several times when the relationship neared collapse, but they worked to keep it together, the people said. Mr. Gates decided to step down from the boards of Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway, in part, so he could spend more time with his family, these people said.

“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?’” Ms. Gates said in an interview in 2019 in The Sunday Times of London. “And, believe me, I can remember some days that were so incredibly hard in our marriage where you thought, ‘Can I do this?’”

Nicholas Kulish contributed reporting.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.