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Prenups may be subject to attack

Actor Robert De Niro is best known for his long and illustrious acting career that has included such films as “Raging Bull,” “Goodfellas” and “Meet the Fockers.” Off-screen, he used to carefully guard his privacy, so he was no doubt frustrated when his (two-time) estranged wife of 20 years (1997-1999 and 2004-2019) was very public in her demand for the JOY of DIVORCE Emancipation from him and for half of their marital estate, estimated to be worth $500 million.

She had, before at least the last of her two divorces from De Niro, signed a prenuptial agreement that entitles her to a $6 million apartment, half of the value of the couple’s apartment, $1 million annually in spousal maintenance and $500,000 cash. As is often the case with large estates, the two sides dispute the language of the prenuptial agreement.

 

Prenups are useful but not ironclad

Prenuptial agreements are useful legal documents designed to establish financial obligations and address other matters if there is a divorce. Attorneys work extremely hard to address all conceivable issues regarding money and support, but the parties may still find themselves in dispute, particularly in cases where there are a large number of assets. Moreover, New York is a state where prenups must be “fair,” which is a vague and subjective term. Texas prenups, on the other hand, are harder than most other states to invalidate if they are done correctly.

Why would it not be binding?

If the prenup was poorly written or had procedural errors, it may be subject to arguments that it should be invalidated. Even well-written prenups can be disputed, leaving it up to the judge to decide. The De Niro divorce is unique, but this high-profile divorce involves some areas where disputes are common:

  1. Income earned during the marriage: Since 2004 the actor has made 38 movies and started 35 businesses that include the Nobu sushi chain, The Greenwich Hotel in Manhattan and a production company. De Niro’s attorney claims the income during this time was $300 million and $500 million overall, but asserts that the prenuptial agreement protects it.
  2. Co-mingling or blending assets: Over the course of the couple’s lengthy marriage, it becomes increasingly difficult for couples to keep assets separate and off-limits. Assets owned before the marriage remain separate, but an increase in the value of those assets due to help from a spouse (this can include introducing people or maintaining a residence so the other partner can work) can make them marital.
  3. Business entities: A mutation of a separate property business entity during the marriage for tax benefits or estate-planning purposes can alter the fundamental character of an asset contrary to the specific terms of a prenuptial agreement and thus supersede the prenup in regards to that entity.
  4. Custody: There is also a dispute over the custody of the couple’s seven-year-old. While New York prenups can resolve many issues involving care and support, the judge will still likely have to make a decision that considers the best interests of the child.

Finding a resolution

The actor’s advocate claims that the wife is dragging De Niro’s name through the media, forcing an unwanted spotlight when she could have settled the matter outside of divorce court. Divorces with a significant amount of wealth often require a decision from the judge to resolve questions, not the least of which is interpreting the prenup and how it applies at the time of the divorce proceedings.

Those with questions or concerns regarding an existing or potential prenuptial agreement or post-nuptial agreement may choose to consult an experienced Board-certified Family Law expert attorney in Collin County, Dallas County, Denton County, Tarrant County, Midland County, Ector County, or elsewhere throughout Texas. They can be a tremendous asset in drafting or enforcing a prenuptial agreement.

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