Tag: prenuptial agreement

Prenuptial Agreements and Waiving Alimony

Actor Robert De Niro is wondering why he signed a prenuptial agreement since it doesn’t seem to be waiving alimony very well. De Niro’s lawyer is claiming the actor is being worked to death to keep up with his estranged wife’s extravagant lifestyle — including her “thirst for Stella McCartney” and $1 million-plus diamond rings.

Prenup Alimony

Aging Bull

According to De Niro’s lawyer during a virtual court divorce hearing:

“Mr. De Niro is 77 years old, and while he loves his craft, he should not be forced to work at this prodigious pace because he has to/ When does he get the opportunity to not take every project that comes along and not work six-day weeks, 12-hour days so he can keep pace with Ms. Hightower’s thirst for Stella McCartney?”

He could get sick tomorrow, and the party’s over,” she said of the famed “Raging Bull” and “The Irishman” star. De Niro phoned into the proceeding, while Hightower appeared by video link.

She also claims De Niro is already a tax delinquent again — with the paychecks from his next two movies to offset his latest multimillion-dollar bill to Uncle Sam, his divorce lawyer claimed.

Florida Prenuptial Agreements

I’ve written about prenuptial agreements and the De Niro divorce before. Prenuptial agreements are not just for celebrity sports figures, and they are about much more than just resolving uncertainty in a marriage.

Any couple who brings any personal or business assets to the union can benefit from one. They are also important to have in place before a couple starts investing in businesses, properties and other investments. But prenups are frequently challenged in court.

Florida has both case law and a statute to help lawyers, judges and the parties determine if a prenuptial agreement is enforceable. For example, Florida courts must consider things such as fraud, duress, coercion, in addition to the unfairness of the agreement, and whether there was any financial disclosure.

And as Robert De Niro is figuring out, even though a prenuptial agreement can waive alimony, temporary support during the divorce proceedings, and child support, may not be waivable in a prenuptial agreement. Florida courts have, recognized that, notwithstanding language in the prenuptial agreement to the contrary, spouses are still entitled to temporary support. In Florida, it is against the public policy to enforce any provisions waiving temporary support.

The War With Grandpa

The recent New York hearing came as the couple squabbles over how much temporary support De Niro should have to pay to Hightower until the divorce is finalized.

Hightower’s lawyer, Kevin McDonough, argued that since filing for divorce in 2018, De Niro has unfairly continued to cut the amount of money he has been sending his estranged spouse, including involving her credit-card expenses, going from $375,000 a month to just $100,000 monthly as recently as January.

But Krauss claimed that in the years leading up to their separation, Hightower was spending more and more. In just 2019, she had spent $1.67 million — including buying a diamond worth $1.2 million from jeweler Kwiat, the lawyer said.

Krauss said De Niro is behind millions of dollars on his taxes and that the money from his next two movie projects will go toward paying off those liabilities. De Niro — who was clobbered with a $6.4 million tax lien in 2015 — has previously said the pandemic decimated his finances.

“If he wants to direct or compel his family to leave their longtime home while he’s spending millions and millions and millions on himself, on his own homes, on renovating what his lawyers tongue-in-cheek call his cottage in Montauk, which he has poured millions and millions into over the past couple of years, he can take that position,” McDonough claimed of the actor.

“There have been no cutbacks and no slowdowns in Mr. De Niro’s lifestyle whatsoever,” McDonough said. Until the prenuptial agreement goes into effect, De Niro is supposed to pay her so she can “maintain the status quo” lifestyle she had when they were married — while also crying foul on Krauss’ claims that De Niro is struggling financially.

The Fox news article is here.

Prenups and Remarriage

Thinking of remarrying? If so, there are a few precautions your must take to make sure your next marriage is successful, and that your finances and children are protected. This can include financial counseling, reviewing important documents and preparing prenuptial and postnuptial agreements.

prenup for remarriage

First Steps

You have concerns before you get remarried, and those concerns can grow into relationship problems unless you sit down with your spouse or future spouse and talk about finances.

As U.S. News and World Report writes, you should start with a simple discussion about your assets and liabilities. Couples also need to discuss their financial goals.

Do we have separate accounts, or do we co-mingle?

Do we get a new home, or do I keep the home I have, and you keep the home you have?”

There are a lot of personal and financial decisions that need to be discussed before the wedding party.

Florida Prenuptial Agreements

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

Any couple who brings any personal or business assets to the union can benefit from one. They are also important to have in place before a couple starts investing in businesses, properties and other investments.

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.

Without a prenup, if your spouse dies, you will have statutory rights under state law to a share of your deceased spouse’s estate and may also have a right to lump sum death benefits, or a survivor annuity under a retirement plan.

That’s where prenups come in. Prospective spouses may limit or expand these rights 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 very worthwhile provided they’re done right.”

The most basic of prenups should list an inventory of premarital assets that would stay with the original owner in case of a divorce. Florida has both case law and a statute to help lawyers, judges and the parties determine if a prenuptial agreement is enforceable.

Final Plans

U.S. News and World Report makes several other suggestions which make sense.

Make sure your estate plan is up to date. You need to be extra cautious if you have children from a previous marriage. You want things to work out with your current spouse and also make sure your kids are not disinherited.

Update your will. Your will and beneficiary designations need to be updated for many major life events, including the birth of a child, death of a family member, marriage, divorce and remarriage.

Review all your documentation. If you are entering your second or third marriage, you may need to make significant changes to your estate plan, beneficiary designations and even your emergency contacts.

Make sure that all the documents you leave behind clearly spell out your wishes. Take the time to do proper estate planning, because a prenup may say one thing and the estate plan may say something different.

If they don’t realize it, at death there could be a problem if [the estate plan and the prenup] are not consistent in their goals.

The U.S. News and World Report article is here.


Challenging Divorce Agreements

A recent case in Florida shows that if your prenuptial agreement, divorce agreement, or mediated marital settlement agreement is poorly written, and the terms are ambiguous, you could be back in court fighting over it – as one South Florida couple found.

Prenuptial Agreement Miami

Clear as Mud

After a hearing, a family trial court judge found that a divorce agreement was “clear and unambiguous” and entered a final judgment. On appeal, the appellate court found the same contract to be ambiguous and reversed and remanded to hold more evidentiary hearings.

The confusion? The parties’ mediated settlement agreement required dividing the Former Husband’s pension, which provided:

The wife is entitled to 50% of the marital portion of this plan through the entry of a Qualified Domestic Relations Order. The marital portion is defined as the amount from the date of the marriage through the date of the filing of the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.

The wife contended that the entire pension is marital because the enhancement was purchased with marital funds; the former husband argued that the purpose of the Agreement provision was to divide the pension 50/50, except for the enhancement portion.

Legal Ambiguity

I recently wrote an article in the Florida Bar Commentator about legal ambiguity and emojis. Divorce contracts are construed in accordance with its terms, so that where the terms are clear and unambiguous, the parties’ intent must be gleaned from the four corners of the document.

When a term is ambiguous or unclear, the trial court may consider extrinsic evidence as well as the parties’ interpretation of the contract to explain or clarify the language.

Ultimately, the appellate court considers whether the contractual provision was actually ambiguous; if not, ‘the language itself is the best evidence of the parties’ intent, and its plain meaning controls.

Determining if a contract is ambiguous may require the court to consider reading the entire agreement to clarify what the parties meant by including the provision.

A provision is ambiguous if it is fairly susceptible to different constructions.

Emojis and Ambiguity

Originating in Japan in 1998, emojis are small digital images used to express an idea or an emotion in electronic communications. Emojis are increasingly becoming evidence in family court, because they create ambiguity in agreements.

Emojis are also small, making them hard to read. Interpreting an emoji can depend on what kind of device they appear in. For example, a 24-inch computer monitor displays thing differently than a 4-inch phone screen.

Emojis don’t always mean the same thing universally, so there can be many different meanings depending on which country you are in. As a result, state and federal courts around the country are increasingly having to interpret emoji meanings.

Back to the Pension

The retirement provision was found to be ambiguous because it was fairly susceptible to different constructions. If the parties intended to split the pension equally, they could easily have said that the pension would be divided 50/50.

Yet, the Agreement refers to the “marital portion” of the FRS plan, a wording that suggested that the parties contemplated that some portion of the plan was non-marital.

The court found that a possible reading of the provision is that the marital portion of the plan is only that portion attributable to the former husband’s time of service with BSO.

Because of the ambiguity, the appellate court remanded the case back to the trial court to hold more hearings.

The appellate case is here.


The ‘Do Over’: Prenuptial Agreements

In light of the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Guardian has an interesting story this weekend about second marriages. If you are going to ‘do it again’, that is, get married a second time, one thing to help make your second marriage successful is a prenuptial agreement.

The Second Time Around

As the Guardian reports:

The National Center for Family and Marriage Research recently analyzed marriage and divorce data, and found that the overall divorce rate was greater for second marriages. In fact, the probability of divorce is around 50% for first marriages.

I never changed my name the first time, as my children already had their father’s surname and it never made me doubt my maternal status. But, with a second marriage, now there are three possible surnames in my family, the only one who shares mine is the dog, and I urgently want a merger.

The National Center for Family and Marriage Research also discovered that for second marriages, the divorce rate is more like 67%.

Prenuptial Agreements

Prenuptial agreements aren’t just for people entering second marriages, they are important for any couple planning to marry. I have written extensively on prenuptial agreements.

A prenup can help keep your non-marital property yours. The property you brought into the marriage is yours – mostly. But over time it is common for people to start mixing things up. Inheritance funds get deposited into joint accounts; properties get transferred into joint names…and all for good reason.

Unfortunately, tracing commingled property is expensive, and hard to prove. But, if you put it in writing at the beginning, you might be able to avoid this task, and save some money down the road.

Prenuptial agreements also help you to change the law. For example, right now in Florida, there has been an ongoing debate about alimony. When you go to court, a judge has to follow state law regarding alimony.

However, through prenuptial agreements you can modify Florida’s legal standards for awarding alimony, in addition to modifying what the current law says about the amount of support and the duration of the alimony period.

For second marriages, a prenup is an especially good idea. What some clients don’t realize is that going through a second, third, or fourth divorce can be more complicated than first-time divorces.

In multiple divorces, couples are older, and have less time to make up for losses. Also, couples are competing for dwindling resources. Child-support, alimony, and dividing up of the retirement accounts may still be pending, and there can be little left to divide in a second divorce.

Prenuptial agreements can be extremely important if you are thinking of marrying again, and they are not just for the ultra-rich. You can limit what’s in a prenup.

Some can simply state what assets each party has brought into the marriage, and what assets each party will take away if the marriage ends. Or, if there is a disparity in incomes, you can add to the contract how much the lower-income spouse will receive.

Also, if you have children from previous marriages, you can also provide some protection for an inheritance.

Second Marriages: The Do Over

The general view of a second wedding is that they’re a bit of a joke. Not a contemptible joke, more of a puzzled, “Why’s she getting married again? She must be one of those people who just enjoys getting married. Wait, they’re both divorced?

They’ll be at it again in a couple of years, to two completely different people. It’s probably an excuse to dress their children up in novelty costumes.

A hardcore of bystanders will infer from a previous marital breakdown that the person is flaky – for which see Germaine Greer’s not entirely disapproving comment about Meghan Markle: “I think she’ll bolt. She bolted before. She was out the door.”

Logically, it makes sense – people who don’t stick at things won’t stick at things – but statistically it doesn’t, as second marriages are more likely to last than first ones.

So in fact, there is nothing as deadly serious as a second marriage. The death-wish rubric which is somewhere between an anachronism and a metaphor in a first marriage is now completely literal: you will definitely be parted by death, because you definitely will not be parted any other way.

As a result, I observe the marriage of Prince Harry and Markle with a profound fellow feeling that I have never before had for a sleb-come-princess, and doubt I will have again.

You might presume that a second wedding is quite liberating, in that you can finally make authentic decisions and you don’t have to invite your relatives. In fact, the main liberation – and this might be more me than the Waleses – is that you don’t have any money.

We’re already getting married on a Wednesday afternoon because the council has a midweek special, in a dress I bought in a charity shop, and a suit he inherited from an uncle of eerily similar dimensions.

The Guardian article is here.


There’s No Divorce Emoji

Emojis and emoticons are popping up in divorce cases, and people are landing in hot water. My new article on emojis and legal ambiguity, which was just published in the Florida Bar Family Law Section Commentator, can help anyone faced with interpreting emojis avoid feeling ????.

Emojis ????

Originating in Japan in 1998, emojis are small digital images used to express an idea or an emotion in electronic communications.

Today, roughly 70 percent of the public uses some type of social media.  Social media has changed many of the ways in which we communicate. For one thing, social media has increased our use of emojis.

One report found more than 92 percent of people use emojis on social media. Emojis have spread to the business world, where nearly half of workers add emojis to professional communications, and companies use them to increase sales and brand awareness.

Emojis in Court ????‍⚖️

They can’t simply be overlooked by courts, because emojis and emoticons say a lot about the sender’s intent. Ignoring them would be like calling a witness to the stand and ignoring their facial expressions.

Emojis fail the ‘duck test’: if it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it is probably a duck. That’s because emoji meanings can be so puzzling, a “duck” emoji, may mean anything but a duck.

For example, a U.S. federal court recently held that a “Smiley” emoticon =) converted an email into a joke, the email meant the opposite of what it said, and a criminal defendant’s lawyer did not violate the Sixth Amendment by sending the prosecutor an email joking: “stipulate that my client is guilty. :)”

An Israeli court awarded damages based on emojis after a prospective tenant sent a landlord a text saying: “Good morning ???? we want the house???????? ????‍ ✌ ☄ ???? ???? just need to go over the details. . .” The landlord removed his ad, then the tenant disappeared. The court awarded the landlord 8,000 shekels.

Ambiguity: What does ???? Mean?

I’ve written about marital settlement agreements and prenuptial agreements before. There are unique issues with emojis, rendering them hard to interpret. For one thing, there’s no definitive source as to what emojis mean.

That unknown can make agreements in an email, a text or an actual marital contract, ambiguous. Marital agreements are interpreted like any other contract. Basic interpretation begins with the plain language of the contract, because the contract language is the best evidence of intent.

Courts are not supposed to rewrite terms if they are clear and unambiguous. Anyone seeking to show a court any evidence outside a fully integrated contract, must first establish that a contract is ambiguous.

A contract is ambiguous when its language is reasonably susceptible to more than one interpretation. That’s where emojis come in, they can be very ambiguous. But why?

Emojis are also small, making them hard to read. Interpreting an emoji can depend on what kind of device they appear in. For example, a 24-inch computer monitor displays thing differently than a 4-inch phone screen.

Emojis don’t always mean the same thing universally, so there can be many different meanings depending on which country you are in. For example:


The “Folded Hands” emoji symbolize “please” and “thank you” in Asia. However, in the U.S. it means: “I’m praying,” and frequently, “high-five”!


The “Pile of Poo” emoji is a pun on the Japanese word for excrement (unko), which starts with the same “oon” sound as the word for “luck” and is complimentary in Japan. But, in the U.S. the emoji is used to express contempt. Strangely, Canadians use the emoji the most.


You can’t understand an emoji’s meaning just by looking at one. People use emojis in ways that have nothing to do with the physical objects they represent, or even what typographers intended. There are regional, cultural and slang meanings to consider too. After all, emojis’ inherent ambiguity is one reason why they’re increasingly becoming evidence in court.

The Spring 2018 Family Law Commentator is here.