Bill and Melinda Gates have had a decades-long agreement that the Microsoft boss could spend a vacation each year with his venture capitalist ex-girlfriend for a long weekend at the beach.
The odd arrangement raises eyebrows now that one of the richest couples in the world are going their separate ways after 27 years of being together and building a $130billion fortune, reports Daily Mail.
Bill, 65, and venture capitalist Ann Winblad, 70, dated in the 80s but broke up in 1987, the same year he met future wife Melinda. Ann was reportedly more ready for marriage than Bill as he worked day and night to build his billion-dollar Microsoft empire.
However, the pair maintained a friendship and in a 1997 piece in TIME Magazine, Bill said, 'When I was off on my own thinking about marrying Melinda, I called Ann and asked for her approval.'
She approved and the former lovers - with Melinda's blessing - kept their yearly vacation alive, with Bill spending a long weekend with Ann at her beach house on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
The pair spend their getaway every spring riding dune buggies, hang-gliding and taking walks on the beach.
'We can play putt-putt while discussing biotechnology,' Bill said in the 1997 interview.
Ann said, 'We share our thoughts about the world and ourselves. And we marvel about how, as two young overachievers, we began a great adventure on the fringes of a little-known industry and it landed us at the center of an amazing universe.'
Bill and Ann first met in 1984 at a Ben Rosen-Esther Dyson computer conference.
While in different cities, they began going on 'virtual dates' by going to see the same movie at the same time and talking about it on their cell phones. She even convinced him to stop eating meat for a short time.
They broke up three years later, but in the TIME Magazine piece, Ann was quoted telling Bill that Melinda 'would be a good match for him because she had intellectual stamina.'
The pair even got into business together and in 1999 Bill partnered with Ann on Hummer Winblad Venture Partners.
Ann is married to San Francisco private investigator Edward Alex Kline, 63. Kline is the younger brother of actor Kevin Kline.
Bill and Melinda both posted the same joint statement about their divorce on Twitter Monday, which read: 'After a great deal of thought and a lot of work, we have made the decision to end our marriage.
'Over the last 27 years, we have raised three incredible children and built a foundation that works all over the world to enable all people to lead healthy, productive lives.
'We continue to share a belief in that mission and will continue to work together at the foundation, but we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives. We ask for space and privacy for our family as we begin to navigate this new life.'
In papers filed in Washington state, Melinda, 56, described their relationship as 'irretrievably broken'
The couple's eldest daughter, 25-year-old Jennifer Gates, has spoken publicly on social media about the 'challenging stretch' the family recently endured. Neither of their two other adult children have commented.
Jennifer is the oldest of Bill and Melinda's three children, followed by 21-year-old son Rory and 18-year-old daughter Phoebe.
No other details of why the pair are splitting have been given but the court papers reveal the pair did not have a prenuptial agreement in place when they married in 1994 - putting their $130billion fortune at the center of the split.
In the divorce petition, which was filed in Superior Court of Washington - King County on Monday, Melinda asked the judge to dissolved the marriage 'on the date stated in our separation contract'. The separation contract was not included in the filing so that date is unclear.
Melinda says in the petition that spousal support is 'not needed' - meaning she won't seek regular payments from Bill but take a settlement which is likely to be privately negotiated, if it hasn't already been decided upon.
Lawyers are shocked there was no prenup, given Bill had already made his first billion dollars at the age of 31 in 1987 - the same year he met Melinda. Now, their myriad assets are up for grabs.
While the couple have no prenup, it appears a lot of the work of dividing up their estate - which includes properties in five states, a private jet, an astonishing art collection and a fleet of luxury cars - has already been done, as their divorce papers repeatedly refer to a 'separation contract' which both have signed. The contract itself has not been made public.
The announcement comes less than two weeks after they made their last public appearance, virtually, at a Covid event for healthcare workers.
Bill was already a billionaire he married Melinda in the early 1990s.
He founded Microsoft in 1975 and became the world's youngest billionaire in 1987 at the age of 31. He also met Melinda that year when she was working at the company where he served as CEO.
They married six years later but he deliberated over it and, according to previous interviews given by Melinda, even made a list of pros and cons for marriage on a whiteboard.
In 2000 they founded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation - the most influential private foundation in the worth with an endowment work nearly $50billion.
Over the last year the foundation has focused on the development and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines around the world.
As of December, the foundation had committed a total of $1.75billion to the global pandemic response.
In their statement on Monday, the Gates vowed to continue that work together after their split.
The reason behind their split after over a quarter-century remains a mystery but Melinda has previously suggested her husband had trouble balancing work and family.
In 2019, shortly after their 25th wedding anniversary, Melinda gave a rare interview to The Sunday Times in which she revealed how Bill struggled to balance work with family.
'We've just gotten to a point in life where Bill and I can both laugh about more things.
'And, believe me, I can remember some days that were so incredibly hard in our marriage where you thought, "Can I do this?"' she said.
In her memoir published that same year Melinda wrote about her private struggles as the wife of a public icon and stay-at-home mom with three kids.
Melinda described the meeting Bill in her 2019 biography The Moment of Lift, writing: 'I showed up late, and all the tables were filled except one, which still had two empty chairs side by side. I sat in one of them. A few minutes later, Bill arrived and sat in the other.'
After a year of dating, Bill made a list of the pros and cons of getting married.
'You know, we cared a lot for each other and there were only two possibilities: either, we were going to break up or we were going to get married,' Bill said in a Netflix documentary about his life.
Their divorce will be the largest division of assets since Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie split in mid 2019.
The Gateses are worth an estimated $130 billion, making them the fourth-richest people in the world, behind Bezos, Elon Musk, and French luxury goods owner Bernard Arnault.
When the Bezos divorce was finalized in 2019, Jeff kept 75 percent of their joint stake in Amazon - then worth $144billion - leaving MacKenzie with a quarter worth $35.8billion.
It appears that Bill and Melinda have already done a lot of the work of dividing up their estate, as their divorce papers repeatedly refer to a 'separation contract' which both have signed.
The Gates empire includes homes in five states; a fleet of cars including a rare $2 million Porsche; an art collection that includes a $30 million book of writings and sketches by Leonardo Da Vinci; and a series of private jets.
Gates is also the biggest private owner of farmland in the United States, with 242,000 acres across 18 different states.
Bill and Melinda have already pledged to give most of their fortune away before they die. Their three children will receive a reported $10 million each - a tiny fraction of their parents' fortune.
Yet, despite The Giving Pledge, they retain plenty of assets which will need to be split between them.
Xanadu 2.0 Mansion, Washington
The Gates family owns a string of luxury mansions across the US, in Washington, Florida, California and Wyoming.
Prime among them is their main family home in Washington, known as Xanadu 2.0.
The 66,000-square-foot mansion overlooks Lake Washington in Medina, nine miles out of downtown Seattle - where The Gates Foundation has its headquarters.
Gates purchased the lot in 1988 for $2 million, but spent seven years building his dream home - at a cost of $63 million.
The construction along the picturesque lake angered some neighbors, The Washington Post reported at the time - so Gates responded with free car washes, and made his construction crew available to help with little projects at nearby homes.
The home is now worth an estimated $125 million.
'I wanted craftsmanship but nothing ostentatious,' Gates wrote in his book, The Road Ahead, which was written from the guest house, while the main house was being constructed.
'I wanted a house that would accommodate sophisticated, changing technology but in an unobtrusive way that made it clear that technology was the servant, not the master.'
The home has an indoor-outdoor pool with an underwater music system and fossil designs on the floor, plus an ancient fossil imprint of a palm frond behind the diving board.
In the five-acre plot, there is an artificial stream stocked with salmon and cut-throat trout, and a beach with sand imported, according to some, from the Caribbean.
Inside the seven bedroom mansion, with a reported 18 bathrooms, is an art deco home cinema with seating for 20, and a 1,000-square-foot dining room with seating for 24.
For larger gatherings, the 2,300 square-foot reception hall can seat 150 people for dinner, or 200 for a cocktail party.
The 2,100-square-foot library includes two secret pivoting bookcases, one of which contains a bar.
A special nook has been constructed to display one of Gates's most prized possessions - a scientific notebook kept by Leonardo da Vinci in the early 1500s, called the Codex. Gates bought it at auction in 1994 for $30 million.
On the ceiling is engraved a quote from The Great Gatsby: 'He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it.'
There are four rare copies of the book in his library, The Washington Post reported.
Guests at the property, according to Seattle Curbed, are giving a pin to wear on arrival, with sensors.
Depending on their preferences, the temperature, music and lighting will change in the house.
Each room comes with its own touchpad to control the room environment.
'I have a nice house,' said Gates, in a February 2019 'Ask Me Anything' forum on Reddit.
'It includes a trampoline room which seems kind of over the top, but my kids love using it to work off their excess energy.
'I am not sure how guilty I should feel about being in a great house.'