After 11 years of marriage and 18 years as a couple, Albert Einstein and his wife, physicist Mileva Marić, had grown apart. Their differences were irreconcilable and Einstein wanted out of the marriage. In exchange for her agreement to a divorce, Einstein offered her his Nobel Prize money — three years before he actually received it.
What Settlement Terms Did Einstein Propose to His Wife?
BrainPickings.org published an English version of Einstein’s letter to his wife proposing the terms of divorce in its 2015 article, June 12, 1918: Einstein’s Divorce Agreement and the Messiness of the Human Heart. It was a simple letter proposing very generous terms. He offered her:
- 9,000 M (marks) [$1,560 then, $26,000 now] each quarter, instead of the 6,000 M he was currently paying her.
- The entire funds from the Nobel Prize “in the event of the divorce and in the event that it is bestowed upon me.” If and when that occurred, his 9,000 M quarterly payment would cease, and he would instead pay her 8,000 M annually. He wrote the letter in 1918 and he did not win the Nobel Prize until 1921.
- A widow’s pension
He finishes the letter by writing, “Naturally, I would make such huge sacrifices only in the case of a voluntary divorce. If you do not consent to the divorce, from now on, not a cent about 6,000 M per year will be sent to Switzerland. Now I request being informed whether you agree and are prepared to file a divorce claim against me. I would take care of everything here, so you would have neither trouble nor any inconveniences whatsoever.”
She agreed and their divorce was final in 1919.
Why Did Einstein Make Such an Offer?
Why would Einstein propose such a generous settlement agreement? Historians speculate that it was because 1) his wife secretly helped him co-author many of his works and he felt indebted to her, and 2) he was in love with his cousin, Elsa Löwenthal, and wanted to marry to her.
Whatever the genius’s reasoning, it worked. She granted him the divorce, he won the Nobel Prize, and he dutifully transferred the funds (which, according to Shapell.org, amounted to 121,572 Swedish kronor, roughly ten times the annual salary of the average professor at that time) to his ex-wife.
While Einstein may have been willing to make an outrageous offer to get out of his marriage, many people are the opposite. Many fight over things that do not really matter; make sure what you are fighting for is worth the struggle.