Celebrity divorces may be a mainstay of supermarket and online tabloids, but I’m always at a loss to why the stars aren’t better guardians of their privacy. Yes, divorce can be private. The public – even your most adoring fans – never have to know the details of your family life and finances. No ugly laundry gets aired. Your children aren’t exposed to social media exaggerations. Your career in the spotlight continues largely unhindered.
Of course, you can’t always control your estranged spouse. Take, for example, Robert De Niro, who married Grace Hightower in 2004 for the second time. (Their first marriage lasted two years, from 1997-1999). De Niro must have learned something from the first go-around, because he and Hightower executed a prenup before the second marriage. According to the agreement, Hightower is entitled to property worth $6 million, $500,000 cash and $1 million annual alimony.
Hightower agrees she deserves all that the prenup guarantees her, but she also says she wants half of De Niro’s earnings during the 14-year marriage. That amounts to an estimated $150 million more. According to reports, Hightower has issued six subpoenas for De Niro’s finances going back 15 years. And because Hightower is alleging the prenup isn’t valid as to De Niro’s income during the marriage, they have to hash out their money disagreement in court. That makes the divorce a public spectacle.
I don’t know the details within the four corners of the couple’s prenup, but I expect she is going to have an uphill battle obtaining a larger settlement by challenging an already generous document. Both an accomplished actor and businessman, De Niro most likely ensured his lawyers planned carefully for every contingency and my guess is the prenup is airtight. Prenups rarely get invalidated.
Hightower is going to regret her attempt to force De Niro into a public divorce. The divorcing spouses still have a minor child. In custody determinations, a court will consider which parent’s actions are more mindful of the effect on the children. Hightower is exposing her child to avoidable and harmful social media gossip. A family law judge won’t ignore that.
Her decision to challenge the 2004 prenuptial agreement also shows poor judgment, particularly if, as reported, she is insisting on a microscopic accounting of De Niro’s finances. Such tactics rapidly deteriorate whatever goodwill is left in a marriage and reek of revenge.
Anger and a desire for payback – if that is what is behind her apparent vendetta — only complicate the money and custody conversations during a dissolution. Emotions are expensive. My advice to Hightower: go to therapy; don’t go to court.