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Attorneys Vic Hill and Brad MacDonald

The art of the (prenuptial) deal: Trump’s first divorce

Among the many contracts Donald Trump has signed in the course of his career is a prenuptial agreement with his first wife, Ivana. According to The New York Times, it stipulated that, “should the couple split, she return everything – cars, furs, rings – that Mr. Trump might give her during their marriage.”

Ivana was flabbergasted. Trump blamed his lawyer. This was a plausible tactic – his lawyer, Roy Cohn, had earned a reputation as a fearsome, unrelenting man. His clients included Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno and John Gotti. He served as an advisor in the Nixon and Reagan administrations. Meantime he moonlighted in family law.

What’s more, his aggressive approach to divorce may not have been entirely off-base.

A pragmatist’s guide to marriage

Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements have become increasingly valuable to married couples. A variety of factors have made this so. Perhaps the chief reason is that divorce has become incredibly common – the divorce rate in the U.S. is above 50%. As such, many have recognized the need to protect themselves financially in the very likely event that their marriage does not work out. Individuals want to make sure they will not be in fiscal jeopardy. Likewise, they want to ensure their children are well-provided for.

Nuptial agreements are especially crucial to slightly older couples, who are in or past their prime earning years. Such couples often have more complex finances, and more dependents to consider. As such, deciding how to divide assets when times are good may be much more practical – and much less acrimonious – than doing so in the throes of divorce proceedings.

Why didn’t Trump’s prenup protect him?

“It’s difficult to imagine and admit that the flush of the moment may become the flush of the toilet as the relationship goes down the tubes,” Roy Cohn wrote. Preparation for this very circumstance, he said, was key.

As it happened, Donald Trump’s prenuptial agreement didn’t stand; he had to settle matters with Ivana for sums rumored to be in the tens of millions of dollars.

What went wrong? Ivana’s lawyers demonstrated she’d had improper representation during the prenup proceedings. Her initial lawyer had professional and personal relationships with Mr. Cohn, working with him in legal suits and traveling with him on his yacht.