When it comes to divorce settlements, the common perception is that women suck money out of their ex’s bank balance in the name of alimony. The divorce of Amazon CEO from his wife of 25 years, McKenzie has been in the headlines for the past few days. When you look at the narrative, as the nitty-gritty of their settlement emerge, it appears as if Jeff is handing out his hard-earned money to McKenzie on a silver plate. That she would emerge as the world’s richest women after Jeff “pays her out”. Across newspapers and social media, all everyone has been talking about is how a divorce will reduce Jeff’s worth by half, in a tone which makes Mackenzie sound no better than a swindler.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Despite playing a key role in the rise of Amazon, the narrative in Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos’ divorce places all the wealth with the former.
  • Do assets of a married couple solely belong to the partner who earned them?
  • Women often compromise on their own careers to accommodate the professional aspirations of their partners.
  • Don’t such women have any claim on the wealth they helped their partners amass, by backing them at home?

Even when a marriage breaks down, our society has found a way to portray men as the victims.

This assumption that men shell out money to wives during a divorce has given rise to a crop of sexist jokes, where women get portrayed as scheming vixens, determined to make men poorer, to no fault of their own. So even when a marriage breaks down, our society has found a way to portray men as the victims. Those who have been through this process, or have been in a marriage know that this isn’t how separations work. But with all the talk on how richer MacKenzie Bezos will emerge from her divorce with Jeff Bezos, it feels like it is about time this perception about divorce and forking out alimony changes.

Not many know that MacKenzie was a key player in Amazon.com’s early days. “I worked for Jeff at DE Shaw, I was there when he wrote the business plan, and I worked with him and many others … in the converted garage, the basement warehouse closet, the barbecue-scented offices, the Christmas-rush distribution centres, and the door-desk filled conference rooms in the early years of Amazon’s history,” she has said previously, The Guardian reported. However, after their children were born Mackenzie moved on to make a career in writing instead.

But despite her playing a key role in emergence of Jeff as the richest man in the world, the common perception in light of their divorce is that Jeff is “losing” money to MacKensey.

But this isn’t something unheard of, most people look at divorce settlements as a process where wives make easy money off husbands. The latter end up parting with their hard-earned money, while all the wife did during their time together was “sit at home” or raise kids. This narrative completely and conveniently omits the sacrifices homemakers make, so that their partners can concentrate on their careers. A homemaker doesn’t sit around all day, nor is caring for children, while putting your own career on the back-burner, is a small or insignificant sacrifice. In fact, even working women slow their pace down to accommodate a spouse’s career goals, because someone needs to care for the home, while one partner mints money.

So, while men amass property and money, women lose the chance to do the same, often shifting priorities and switching careers to accommodate the family’s needs. Which is why all the money that comes into a house is seen as family income. Both the partners have equal rights on it, because they have contributed in earning, saving or sustaining it. So how can it solely belong to the person who earned it? What does a woman do, when a marriage doesn’t work out and she is left with no career or money because she prioritised family? Which is where the concept of alimony comes in, which many seem to perceive as easy money for women. However, alimony is what women need to ensure that all the sacrifices they have made to sustain their family do not leave them struggling for every meal after a divorce.

This is applicable even in situations where a male partner makes sacrifices for the advancement of his wife’s career.

Marriage means a partnership with equal contribution to the relationship, even if it on different fronts. Which means that whatever a couple builds up together during their time together, they have equal rights on it. So, wealth belongs to both the partners, and not just to the one who earned it. We need to change our perception of divorce settlements as a way of making easy money for one partner off another. Courts across the world do not see it that way and neither shouldn’t we because in doing so we are making marriage a partnership based on unequal dynamics. Where one partner is superior, hence his or her contribution is more significant, plainly on grounds of a paycheck.

This imbalance is unfair to those who prioritize love and aspirations of their partners over their own career, irrespective of the gender. So instead of saying how much wealth Jeff Bezos is “giving” to MacKenzie, let’s say how are Jeff and MacKenzie diving their assets. It is little changes in the way we say things, which can trigger a big shift in the way we think.

Picture Credit: The New York Times

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Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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