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Robert DeNiro and Grace Hightower Prepare to Battle over Prenups

The actor and his now-estranged wife prepare to battle over prenups. The couple signed a prenuptial agreement prior to their 2004 marriage, an agreement which Hightower claims is invalid.

DeNiro claims that the prenup limits Hightower to about $6 million in property, plus about $1 million annually in alimony. But Hightower claims she is entitled to half of the $300 million marital estate. DeNiro earned most of this money through acting roles and business investments.

Judge Matthew Cooper must also approve a parenting time division for Helen, the couple’s 7-year-old daughter.

“Today, famous actors like DeNiro are not the only people who draw up prenuptial agreements,” said Syracuse family law attorney Richard J. Bombardo. “Because these agreements can do so much, and because they are rather difficult to overturn, the number of couples signing these pacts has increased about 500 percent since the 1990s.”

The persistently-high divorce rate probably has something to do with the increase as well, he added.

Many people have gone through messy divorces before. So, they want to make their new marriages as strong as possible while also streamlining potential future divorce proceedings. A prenuptial agreement accomplishes both these objectives. Whether they are rich, poor, or somewhere in between, most couples fight about money. In many cases, these fights wreck the marriage, or at least significantly contribute to its demise. Prenuptial agreements remove money from the equation altogether. So, these disputes never have a chance to poison the relationship.

Premarital agreements also cover inheritance and succession matters.

These issues are especially important if either spouse has children from a previous marriage. Under New York law, these children have no inheritance rights, and many people don’t intend for that to happen. So, to reinforce the provisions in the prenuptial agreement, many spouses also make wills, trusts, and other executory documents.

Child custody and child support are about the only off-limits areas.

These decisions must reflect the best interests of the children, and not the best interests of the parents. New York has not adopted the Uniform Premarital Agreements Act. So, breaking a prenuptial agreement is a bit complex in the Empire State. The laws are confusing and results are not consistent among different counties.

Unconscionable division is usually the best way to overturn an unfair premarital agreement. But it’s not an easy path. Unconscionable is not the same as uneven. Essentially, the division must send one spouse to the penthouse and the other one to the poorhouse.

The DeNiro/Hightower prenup may be such a division.

Although $6 million is by no means poor, it is nowhere near $150 million, or whatever her half would be. However, Hightower and other spouses must prove the agreement was unconscionable when it was made. Way back in 2004, that $6 million may have been a good deal. This issue comes up a lot with regard to stock holdings. If a spouse bought Amazon stock in 2000, it was almost worthless. But that’s certainly not the case today.

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