The Most Expensive Divorces In History

There are many myths surrounding marriage and divorce, the main one being the old saw about how 50% of all marriages end in divorce. That's simply not true, and the divorce rate has actually been trending downward in recent years.

One thing that is true, unfortunately, is that divorce can be hella expensive. In fact, divorce can totally ruin you financially even if you're not a billionaire, and even if you avoid the worst financial effects of a divorce it's still not cheap: The average divorce costs about $15,000.

Of course, you might think if you're very wealthy $15,000 doesn't seem like a lot of money. But then, everything is relative, and as the late, great Notorious B.I.G. said, mo' money, mo' problems. Divorce might be ruinous for your average person, but when billionaires are involved the amounts of money changing hands can be absolutely incredible. And according to Forbes there are more billionaires in the world than you might think—a lot more: 2,755 of them in 2021, to be exact, which means a lot more big divorces coming. And unlike the overall divorce rate, the cost of a billionaire divorce keeps going up: Bill and Melinda Gates' divorce may well set a new world record, which (as we'll see) is already astronomically high. Here, then, are the most expensive divorces in history.

Craig McCaw and Wendy McCaw: $460 million

Craig and Wendy McCaw may no longer be household names, but for a brief, shining moment they were known for going through one of the most expensive divorces in history. As The Seattle Times reminds us, the McCaws met in college and married shortly after graduating. They weren't poor by any means, but they certainly weren't billionaires. Forbes explains that McCaw made his real money by buying cellular communication businesses, which he turned around and sold to AT&T for $11.5 billion in 1994.

Probably not coincidentally, the couple separated not long after, and filed for divorce in 1995. Then they began arguing vigorously about how to divide up the empire. Washington is a community property state, but Craig argued that his investments stemmed from money passed to him by his father and thus should be considered prior wealth not subject to divorce decree.

The battle was brutal. The McCaws, known for their love of privacy and being low-key billionaires, suddenly had almost every aspect of their life exposed to public scrutiny. In the end, Wendy McCaw walked away with $460 million, which actually landed her on the Forbes 400 in 1998. Since then, there's good news and bad news: The good news is that the McCaws remain friends and even work together. The bad news is that the value of their companies declined precipitously and neither is as filthy rich as they once were.

Roy E. Disney and Patricia Disney: $600 million

There are certain family names that just scream money. If you're named Disney, after all, it's safe to assume you have access to "Breaking Bad"-levels of cash at all times. Roy E. Disney was Walt Disney's nephew, and the last of the immediate family to be directly involved with the company. In 2007, his personal wealth was estimated to be about $1.3 billion, according to Forbes.

As noted by The Hollywood Reporter, Roy married his first wife, Patricia, in 1955. He then stayed married to her for the next 52 years, when he suddenly filed for divorce, citing those pesky irreconcilable differences. If you're thinking it's totally sus that a 77-year-old man suddenly gets tired of his wife for no reason, you're right: Roy married producer Leslie DeMeuse a year after the divorce. D is for Disney notes that the pair shared a love for sailing, and worked together on a sailing documentary after getting married. Sadly, Roy passed away shortly afterwards.

So how much is 52 years of marriage worth to a billionaire scion of a famous family? About $600 million, apparently. That downgraded Roy E. Disney from billionaire to mere multi-millionaire, and knocked him off of Forbes' list of the richest people in the world.

Dmitry Rybolovlev and Elena Rybolovlev: $604 million

The word "oligarch" gets thrown around sometimes, but Dmitry Rybolovlev is the real deal. Forbes tells us that he held a stake in Uralkali, a Russian company that makes fertilizer, and cashed out for $6.5 billion dollars in 2010. As one does.

Dmitry and his wife Elena had initiated divorce proceedings in 2008, but when billions are involved, time suddenly slows to a crawl. Forbes reports that things got very messy very fast. She served him papers at a New Year's Eve party, and accused him of being a serial cheat who flaunted his many mistresses. Elena scored what seemed like a knockout blow in 2014 when a Swiss court ordered Dmitry to pay her $4.5 billion in the divorce settlement.

That's a number that would alarm even someone as rich as Dmitry, so he did the sensible thing and appealed the order. The New York Daily News reports that a year later the Swiss courts came to their senses and cut Elena's award down to a measly $604 million, and the two got serious about negotiating an end to the saga. In October 2015, they finally announced they'd reached an agreement and they were officially divorced. Don't feel too badly for Dmitry: He's still worth close to $7 billion.

Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren: $750 million

If you need a refresher about Tiger Woods' divorce from Elin Nordegren, the basics according to Reuters are simple: In 2009, when Woods was the #1 golf pro in the world and possibly the wealthiest sports star as well, he was engulfed in a scandal when a late-night car crash led to revelations that he was what you might call "sketchy." He eventually confessed to being a sex addict, to having affairs with multiple women, and to generally being a pretty bad husband.

As Insider reports, that behavior cost him—big time. The divorce settlement paid out $750 million to Nordegren, and came with a list of other restrictions for Woods. For example, he was explicitly forbidden from bringing any of his lady friends around his children.

As noted by The Denver Post, the enormous sum paid out to Nordegren is explained by her agreement to never speak publicly about her husband's behavior. In other words, it's essentially hush money—and probably a bargain. Woods lost $35 million in sponsorship deals in the wake of the scandal, and needed to rebuild his image (and his golf game). He simply couldn't afford to have his ex-wife telling eye-popping stories about his bad behavior.

Adnan Khashoggi and Soraya Khashoggi: $874 million

Adnan Khashoggi became one of the richest men in the world the old-fashioned way: He was born into a relatively affluent family and used money given to him by his father to close his first deal. He built a business empire and eventually became a notorious arms dealer, facilitating deals between the United States and Saudi Arabia on his way to a net worth estimated at $4 billion.

According to The Washington Post, Soraya Jarvis-Daly was just 15-years-old when she met and married Adnan Khashoggi in 1962. When the couple hit the skids in 1982, things got ugly, weird—and expensive—very fast. Soraya claimed that she had directly aided her husband in the making of his fortune, and thus deserved a huge hunk of it. Further, she alleged that Adnan had illegally divorced her without her knowledge in 1974 in a bizarre maneuver involving an Islamic religious court.

Soraya went for the jugular, demanding a 50% split of Adnan's assets (about $2 billion) plus $500 million in "punitive damages" plus $40 million in "general damages" stemming from an oral agreement she claimed the couple had entered into in 1974 (one begins to wonder what happened in 1974 to prompt a promise of $40 million and a secret divorce). In the end, Soraya walked away with $874 million.

Harold Hamm and Sue Ann Arnall: $975 million

Harold Hamm owns about 75% of Continental Resources, a huge independent oil company, and is currently worth about $9.4 billion. According to Forbes, in 2015 that fortune was a bit bigger—$13.7 billion, to be exact. His divorce from ex-wife Sue Ann Arnall after 26 years of marriage had a little something to do with that reduction, but it could have been much worse except for a dirty trick.

After the divorce proceedings had dragged on for years, Hamm offered Arnall a check for the extremely specific amount of $974,790,317.77. If you've ever wondered whether you can actually just write a check for an astronomical amount like that, the answer is yes—there's a copy of the check in this Forbes article.

Arnall initially rejected the offer, believing she was owed a lot more than slightly south of $1 billion. Then she cashed the check, which was a strategic error. As Business Insider notes, Hamm immediately filed a motion arguing that Arnall had accepted his terms for a settlement and thus should not get anything more. The courts eventually decided in Hamm's favor, leaving Arnall to lick her wounds. Arnall took the only revenge she had left: She spent some of her money on a successful effort to get the judge who presided over the divorce ousted from his seat.

Steve and Elaine Wynn: $850 million

You've probably heard the term "starter marriage." Well, Steve and Elaine Wynn had what you might call a "starter divorce." As Town and Country Magazine tells us, the two met in college and got married in 1963. In 1986, they divorced—then got married again in 1991.

The second go-round lasted until 2010, and the second divorce was a doozy—and the fallout took a long time to become clear. As Forbes notes, the settlement gave Elaine 11 million shares in Wynn Resorts (about a 9% share), which she co-founded with Steve. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, that left Elaine and Steve with about equal shares in their company. Steve also sold off some of his shares to add cash to the settlement, bringing the total value of Elaine's divorce settlement to about $850 million.

Then Elaine wanted to sell some of her shares in 2012, but the board wasn't happy about it. She sued, and was removed from the Wynn Resorts board as a result. But the saga continued, because in 2018 Steve Wynn was accused of sexual harassment, and as a result stepped down as CEO of and chairman of Wynn Resorts, and sold all of his shares in the company. Elaine, now worth about $2 billion, is now the largest shareholder in the company.

Bernie Ecclestone and Slavica Ecclestone: $1.2 billion

Bernie Ecclestone was the chief executive of the Formula One Group, and his net worth is estimated at about $3.5 billion. He married former model Slavica in 1984, and they seemed pretty happy for 24 years, until Slavica filed for divorce in 2008 when she was 50-years-old and Bernie was 78. The divorce was expensive. CNBC reports that it was initially estimated that Slavica walked away with $4 billion, but that was later downgraded to an estimated $1.2 billion—still not too shabby.

But as the Sunday Morning Herald explains, things are a lot more complicated than that. As you might imagine, a billionaire's finances aren't as simple as a normal person's. Ecclestone set up a trust for his wife and daughters years ago, and moved most of his assets to a business based on the isle of Jersey in order to evade Great Britain's taxes. As a result, he isn't officially in charge of any of his money—Slavica is. When a criminal investigation into bribery charges looked into Ecclestone's divorce settlement, investigators discovered something odd: Slavica is paying him about $100 million a year.

No one's entirely certain what's going on here, except for one thing: There's a lot of money at stake, and the Ecclestone divorce seems to have been much more amicable than it appeared.

Bill Gross and Sue Gross: $1.3 billion

Divorce is a messy, emotional experience for most people. It almost never goes well. But usually there's a familiar pattern to a high-value divorce: Legal maneuvering, dirty tricks and insults, a settlement and a cheerful joint statement, then everyone goes their separate ways.

Bill and Sue Gross followed that pattern—except for the last part. As reported by Forbes, Sue filed for divorce in 2016 and walked away with $1.3 billion for her troubles after a divorce that got as petty as you can imagine. The couple even battled over their pet cats, with poor Bill losing his bid to keep one that he was especially fond of. When the dust settled, Bill was no longer on the Forbes 400 and Sue was a newly-minted billionaire.

Then, as Town and Country Magazine reports, they just kept on battling. The marriage officially ended in 2017, but the couple squabbled over who got to remain in their California mansion. There were reports of the sort of mean-spirited antics you imagine only happen in movies—the use of (we are not making this up) "fart spray" and the placement of a dead fish inside the ventilation system, for example. Bill then purchased a house in the same tony enclave and hired a security team to spy on his ex-wife and her family. Billionaires—they're just as petty as us!

Rupert Murdoch and Anna Murdoch: $1.7 billion

Rupert Murdoch is a serial monogamist. Hello! Magazine tracked his various nuptials: He married his first wife, Patricia Booker, in 1956. They divorced in 1967, and a year later he married Anna Maria Torv—long before he became the astronomically wealthy businessman we know today. After more than three decades together, Murdoch and Torv divorced in 1999, and CNBC tells us that the settlement was worth about $1.7 billion. The Guardian explains that much of that was actually put into a trust for the couple's children, however.

You might think that such a costly breakup might put Murdoch off of marriage, but not so much. Just 17 days after his expensive divorce from Torv was finalized, he married Wendi Deng, 38 years his junior. The couple were married for 14 years, announcing their divorce in 2013.

Murdoch had learned one lesson from his history, however: According to the New York Times, He and Deng signed a prenuptial agreement (along with two postnuptial amendments) that dictated how assets would be split. There were still plenty of details to work out concerning custody of their children, living arrangements, and voting rights on the shares of the family trust, but it was a much, much less expensive divorce for Murdoch this time around. Three years later, Murdoch got married again—to former Mrs. Mick Jagger, model Jerry Hall.

Alec Wildenstein and Jocelyn Wildenstein: $3.8 billion

If the name Jocelyn Wildenstein rings a bell, it might be because of her love affair with plastic surgery—fairly disastrous plastic surgery, which earned her the mean-spirited nickname "Catwoman." Wildenstein is the living definition of the word "socialite." She was born in Switzerland and by the age of 17 was jetting around the world dating wealthy men. She married art dealer Alec Wildenstein in 1978, and the couple was married for more than 20 years before their insanely expensive divorce, which CNBC reports paid out a whopping $3.8 billion to Jocelyn—$2.5 billion directly, and payments of $100 million for 13 years.

The divorce was wild. Vanity Fair reports that Alec threatened Jocelyn with a gun, and both parties accused the other of flagrant infidelities. Alec claimed that all of their homes and cars and such were actually owned by his father. He ordered the combinations on all the safes changed, and ordered the servants to ignore her if she insisted on showing up. 

You might think taking home nearly $4 billion would be enough to set you up for life, but somehow Jocelyn Wildenstein managed to squander it all. Money reports that she filed for bankruptcy in 2018, claiming to have exactly zero dollars and to be living off of a $900 monthly social security payment.

Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Bezos: $35 billion

The current record-holders for most expensive divorce have quite a bit of runway between them and the runners-up. As reported by Forbes, as part of the Bezos' divorce settlement, Jeff Bezos' ex-wife MacKenzie received about $35 billion. This is how rich Jeff Bezos is: He didn't even have to go out of pocket to pay her off. She received her settlement in the form of 4% of Amazon stock.

That settlement made MacKenzie Bezos the third-richest woman in the world overnight (though, to be clear, she wasn't exactly poor before that). And despite clear evidence that the root cause of their split was infidelity on the part of Jeff Bezos, their divorce has been remarkably friendly and smooth. Vox explains one reason for that: Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos have very complicated and intertwined financial lives—MacKenzie was a big part of the early days of Amazon, and trying to deny her that credit might not be worth the effort, even if Jeff was feeling vindictive. Maintaining a friendly public relationship is simply very good business for both of them, as it allows them both to benefit from arrangements made years ago which would be difficult to undo at this point in time.