Melinda Gates, former general manager at Microsoft, started meeting with divorce lawyers in 2019 before deciding to part ways with Bill Gates, the Wall Street Journal has reported.

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Bill, who is a billionaire Microsoft co-founder (65), and Melinda (56), had announced their divorce after 27 years of marriage — a development that Jennifer, their daughter, described as a challenging time for the whole family.

On Sunday, the WSJ reported that Melinda consulted divorce lawyers roughly two years before she filed for a split.

She was quoted by documents and people familiar with the matter as saying their union was “irretrievably broken”.

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The couple didn’t reveal what prompted the split but, according to people and documents, Melinda has been working with lawyers across several firms since at least 2019 to unwind the union of more than 25 years.

WSJ quoted sources as claiming Bill’s friendship with Jeffrey Epstein, a financier who pleaded guilty to soliciting an underage girl in a sex trafficking case in 2008, “still haunts” Melinda.

Epstein had committed suicide in prison two months before his trial on federal charges related to sex trafficking.

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It is understood that Melinda, a global advocate for women and girls, had told her husband she was “uncomfortable” with Epstein after the couple met him together in 2013.

In October 2019, the New York Times had reported that Bill met with Epstein several times, and once stayed late at his New York townhouse.

Jointly announcing their split, Bill and Melinda had stated: “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 our work together at the [Bill and Melinda Gtaes] foundation, but we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives.”

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