Robert De Niro’s estranged wife, Grace Hightower, is demanding half of the actor’s half-billion dollar fortune, despite signing a prenuptial agreement in 2004. Feeling the ‘Heat’, De Niro is wondering whether his prenup is valid and will survive court scrutiny.

Void Prenup

Analyze This

According to the New York Daily News, details about the Hollywood star’s finances emerged during a hearing in Manhattan Supreme Court that revealed the two are battling over how to interpret a 2004 pre-nuptial agreement signed after a previous divorce.

De Niro attorney Krauss-Browne said that under the terms of the pre-nup Hightower was entitled to a $6 million apartment, $500,000 cash, $1 million each year and half the value of their marital residence.

“Nope, I’m entitled to 50%.”

Hightower, 64, is arguing she is entitled to much more — and that De Niro, 75, has kept her in the dark about their money since 2008. She believes she is entitled to a cut of 38 movies and 35 new business ventures since 2004 that involved the Oscar-winning actor.

Florida Prenuptial Agreements

I’ve written about prenuptial agreements before. Prenuptial agreements are about more than just resolving the ‘Casino’ like uncertainty in a marriage.

A prenuptial agreement (or “prenup” for short) is a contract between people intending to marry. A prenup determines spousal rights when the marriage ends by death or divorce. This can be especially important in second marriages.

If you divorce without a prenup, your property rights are determined under state law, and a spouse may have a claim to alimony while the suit for divorce is pending and after entry of a judgment.

That’s where prenups come in. Prospective spouses may limit or expand state laws by an agreement. Prenups are also used to protect the interests of children from a prior marriage, and to avoid a contested divorce. Prenups can be a reliable guide down rough rivers if they’re done right.

Great Expectations

Hightower attorney Allan Mantel put the couple’s revenue since their prenup at $300 million — $250 million of which came from movies. He estimated that De Niro’s net worth was $500 million.

In addition to De Niro’s work in Hollywood, much of their earnings came from his ownership of the Nobu chain of restaurants and Greenwich Hotel.

Hightower’s frustration that she was not considered an equal led to their previous divorce in 1999, Mantel said.

“That’s what caused the first divorce — we want a partnership. She enhances his goodwill. She enhances his career. I agree you’re going to be my 50% partner’ — it’s in the agreement.”

Hightower says that part of the deal is void due to De Niro’s alleged shady accounting practices. The judge then joked:

His income will fall now that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is out of the picture — less ‘Saturday Night Live,’” the judge remarked, referencing De Niro’s appearances on the sketch show.”

De Niro sat stone-faced.

The judge made a more serious observation as the hearing concluded.

After the hearing, De Niro, as is his custom, held a newspaper over, his face and became aggravated while struggling to find his driver waiting for him outside the courthouse.

Meet the Parents

De Niro filed for divorce from Hightower in December. They are also battling over custody of their 7-year-old daughter, who they had through a surrogate. They also have a 21-year-old son.

The New York Daily News article is here.

*Photo courtesy Georges Baird