Opening the family balance sheet in family court is not in the game plan. That strategic priority gives Vanessa some leverage if she really wants more than what the prenup allows.
Forget the famous last name and it should be a simple settlement. A billionaire’s son with a family history of divorce marries a model. A decade and five kids later, she wants out.
She can take the split the prenuptial agreement dictates or she can fight for something more. It all depends on how big a fuss she’s willing to make to get the family to get her to go away.
But the famous name here makes things almost infinitely more complicated. The Trumps aren’t like other billionaires in a lot of key ways that guarantee Vanessa Trump’s divorce from Donald Jr. won’t be business as usual.
My guess is that it will be an extremely quiet split, literally friends and family only. The stakes are too high.
Never mind the conspiracy theories
Chatter about why Vanessa hired a “criminal lawyer” to represent her is overdone. He’s apparently a friend of her family and if he’s some kind of puppet master he needs to update his website.
Likewise, while this could be a baroque effort to park family assets with her for safekeeping if the investigative heat gets too hot, there are better solutions than staging a divorce.
The Trump Organization’s labyrinthine structure protects itself. Even if Donald Jr. were in trouble, breaking up his family as an asset protection move qualifies as both unnecessary and overkill.
But the risk here comes from the divorce process itself. A messy split would require discovery and an accounting of household property, which in turn could all too easily enter the public record for mass consumption.
No billionaire dynasty wants that. Arguably the Trumps relish the prospect even less. And while the lawyers have brilliantly prevented leaks so far, what happens in a closely watched divorce proceeding is a lot harder to control.
Exposing Donald Jr.’s place in the family finances may not even be politically awkward, let alone damaging. But that’s not the kind of gamble astute lawyers want to take.
They’re going to give Vanessa whatever she wants. Otherwise, even if she has a non-disclosure clause written into the prenup, the odds of even accidental disclosure are just too high.
Uncontested and theoretically amicable
Whatever set Vanessa off, she’s not eager to pick a fight. Filing for an uncontested divorce indicates that she just wants out with a minimum of fuss.
In New York, “uncontested” means there isn’t going to be a significant fight over child custody, support or division of property. She’ll take whatever she’s offered.
If she’s acting rationally, that willingness to settle in advance is probably a factor of already talking it through with Donald Jr. There probably aren’t any surprises or shocks waiting for her.
The family has a history of both prenuptial contracts and handing the mother custody of the kids. It’s what Donald did with his ex-wives.
There’s probably a few million dollars plus child support waiting for Vanessa. It’s not a fortune, but Trump prenup deals can lean toward the punitive — Marla Maples only got $2 million for three years of marriage.
She’s probably reread the contract. She’s thought it through.
There might be a chance that she negotiated a sweetener with Donald Jr. to improve the terms, but that’s unlikely from the little we know about the way the family operates.
It’s not Donald Jr.’s money to bargain with. While he might be heir to a share of a $3-$4 billion real estate empire, it doesn’t belong to him yet.
Ivanka’s financial disclosures show that the Trump kids get passive income from the ventures where they have an interest. Otherwise, they’re surprisingly cash poor — and the assets are illiquid when they’re there at all.
Donald Jr. doesn’t seem to have bought a whole lot of property on his own. The coop a few blocks east of Trump Tower where his family lives is undoubtedly nice, but by Manhattan standards it’s not worth a vast fortune.
Odds are good Vanessa gets rent-free use of the apartment if not ownership. The Trump pattern of divorce says she’ll probably get custody and the kids need those bedrooms.
Other than that, the fishing cabin in the Catskills is the only thing we really know about that’s in his name. It may not be worth much, but he’ll probably offer up concessions to keep it.
The family business as trust
We often see family businesses put into trust in order to shield the operating assets from the repercussions of individual heirs’ bad luck or bad choices. This particular “family business” works a lot like a trust in that respect.
In theory, Donald Jr.’s relationship to the Trump Organization protects the larger dynasty from substantial spousal claims. Vanessa’s unlikely to get a place at that table even if she tried.
But part of that protection revolves around the complexity of the enterprise. It’s less about formal separation of the family members from ownership of the business than it is about the endless interlocking partnerships, pass-through entities and minority interests.
Laying all that bare in a way a divorce court could follow makes it redundant. And that’s ultimately her leverage — non-disclosure deal and pre-nuptial contract notwithstanding.