Given the choice, I’d rather stick a fork in my hand than write about my personal life. Unfortunately, it seems that I don’t have any other option. Several awful things have been widely reported that are simply false, but a falsehood uncorrected may as well be truth.
I really wish there were not this level of attention directed towards personal matters in the first place, but the legal filings in a California divorce are public information, my ex-wife (Justine) is an extremely prolific blogger, and certain journalists seem to have a creepy fixation on my personal life. Much as one may wish for privacy, in the 21st century it just doesn’t exist.
The final straw that prompted me to write this was an off-the-cuff comment in a recent New York Times article that I “ran off with an actress”, suggesting that was the reason for my divorce. Andrew Sorkin, an otherwise excellent journalist, was actually writing an article about the difference between liquid and illiquid wealth. The primary point he was making, was that even if someone has assets that are worth an enormous amount on paper, that doesn’t matter if, as was the case with me several months ago, the assets cannot be sold quickly enough to meet an unexpected cash obligation. The article as a whole was fine, but the inaccurate comment on my personal life was quite painful. My ex-wife also contributes frequently to the public literature on the divorce, and recently wrote an article for the Times of London, containing several more inaccuracies that I would like to correct.
Since I was accused of absconding with an actress in one of the biggest newspapers in the world, and moreover was quoted frequently in the article, this was assumed by many to be true. Let me be absolutely clear: it is not. I filed for divorce from Justine (for reasons I should not have to justify or make public) before I met Talulah Riley, the woman who is now my fiancé. The fact of the matter is that Talulah and I lived on opposite sides of the world and hadn’t even known of each other’s existence before the marriage with Justine ended.
It is worth mentioning that Talulah, as anyone who knows her would attest, is one of the most kind hearted and gentle people in the world. The cliché that has been propagated, of me abandoning a devoted wife to “run off” with a young actress, could not have been more falsely applied.
I would also like it known that Matt Peterson, the president of Global Green and Justine’s long-term boyfriend, played no part in my decision to file for divorce. Matt has been a mutual acquaintance of both Justine’s and mine for many years, and as readers of her blog are aware, she did not enter a relationship with him until after I had filed for divorce. There was no third party involved in the break-up at all.
Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?
Another falsehood that has been widely reported was that I claimed I was “broke”, presumably as some sort of strategy in the divorce. Here is the truth of the matter:
In late 2007, I had to make a tough decision. Tesla was in a near fatal situation and the only way out was for existing shareholders to completely recapitalize the company. There was no way to raise money externally given the severity of the problems. Rather than allow Tesla to die, I committed almost all my cash reserves to the company, leaving a few million dollars to cover living expenses.
This should have been fine, as, relative to others with a similar net worth, I don’t spend much money on personal matters. I own no homes (not even my residence at this point), yachts or expensive artwork. My clothes are mostly jeans and t-shirts and I almost never take vacations, apart from kid related travel.
Much has been written about my use of a “private” jet, as though this is a personal indulgence or shows that I have some kind of Marie Antionette approach to living expenses. Last year, I did roughly 200 business trips and spent 500 hours in the air, not counting airport time. In contrast, you could count the number of truly personal trips I did on one hand. If I didn’t need the plane to get my jobs done running SpaceX and Tesla simultaneously, it would have been sold long ago.
How Many Lawyers Does it Take to Screw in a…?
What caught me by surprise, and forced me to seek emergency loans from friends, were the enormous legal fees I had to pay my ex-wife’s divorce lawyers. In a California divorce, the wealthier spouse must pay both sides of the battle even if they are not the aggressor.
The legal and accounting bills for the divorce total four million dollars so far, which is an average of roughly $170,000 per month for the past 24 months. Journalists were quick to mock the poor “broke” guy that had $200k a month expenses, failing to note that legal fees constituted the majority.
I never said in any court documents that I was “broke” or even that I lacked considerable assets, and at no point have I ever sought to limit support payments to Justine. In fact, I state in my own court declarations that I own exceptionally valuable ownership in Tesla, SpaceX and SolarCity. I was simply seeking some reasonable limit on the attorneys fees or at least more time to obtain cash to pay the unexpectedly high legal bills. The judge did grant the latter relief.
Unfortunately, most news articles didn’t bother to read any of the actual court documents and just echoed the original errors in Owen Thomas’s VentureBeat story, not realising that the guy is Silicon Valley’s Jayson Blair. That may be a bit unfair to Blair, as Thomas, while just as prone to mixing fiction with fact to spice up a story, has a vicious mean streak that Blair never had. The collaboration of my ex-wife’s lawyers and Owen Thomas, which Thomas acknowledges in his articles, is a match made in … well certainly not Heaven.
Apart from the $170k average monthly legal bill, the rest of my living expenses are mostly nanny salaries and supporting Justine’s household. In addition to paying all of her household expenses and anything related to the children, I send Justine $20,000 (after tax) per month for clothing, shoes and other discretionary items. I have never disputed any of this or even been a month late in making payment. There is also no dispute about her receiving the family residence in Bel Air, in which she currently lives.
Custody of our five children is split evenly. Almost all of my non-work waking hours are spent with my boys, and they are the love of my life.
Justine wrote in the Times as though there has been no negotiation or settlement process, which is absolutely untrue. Moreover, in attempting to maximise the financial outcome from those discussions, she has applied every possible legal and public relations pressure tactic – her Times article being a pointed example. I even had to endure her attempt to enjoin my companies, which would have required her participation and permission in every significant corporate decision. The court rejected this immediately.
This torturous process culminated in a court hearing, where Justine tried to dispute the separate property agreement that we signed in March 2002. This agreement said that any separate property we created would remain separate property, so the novels she wrote would be hers and any companies I created would be mine.
We began negotiations two months before marriage with separate legal counsel and an independent mediator drawing up the agreement, and signed it six weeks after marriage. In mid 1999, Justine told me that if I proposed to her, she would say yes. Since this was not long after the sale of my first company, Zip2, to Compaq, and the subsequent cofounding of PayPal, friends and family advised me to separate whether the marriage was for love or money.
According to the marital agreement, Justine would receive approximately $20 million dollars after tax, half in the form of the house and half in support payments. Prior to the divorce trial that she lost in early May, I had offered her more than double that number as a settlement, which is roughly equivalent to a pre tax income of $80 million. I also said that if there was any worthy cause that she felt deserved attention, I would be happy to give to them in her name. Justine said no to this offer and continued to insist on receiving ownership in Tesla and SpaceX.
On May 3rd this year, the California court agreed with my position, declaring the marital agreement both valid and enforceable. Moreover, my motion for non-suit was granted within the first few hours of the trial, meaning that even if everything Justine claimed was assumed to be true, she would still lose the case. For good measure, the judge then went on to point out that he did not agree with the validity of her claims. Justine has decided to appeal…