Melania Trump could get up to $50 million and custody of her teenage son Barron if she divorces her disgraced husband Donald, top lawyers say.
If the former first lady stays in the marriage for a long time after leaving the White House she could renegotiate her prenup again to give her more, said New York divorce lawyer Jacqueline Newman.
The pre-marital financial agreement could include penalty clauses for misbehaviour, such as Donald’s alleged affair with porn star Stormy Daniels, said London divorce lawyer Janette Johnson.
Speculation over the Trumps’ future as husband and wife is rampant after the twice-divorced property tycoon’s four-year run as US president – one of the worst ever – finally came to an end this week.
The Trumps, who marked their 16th wedding anniversary on Friday, had plenty of frosty or awkward moments in Washington, and it has even been claimed they were sleeping in separate bedrooms in the White House.
Former White House aide and The Apprentice contestant Omarosa Manigault-Newman claimed in her 2018 book that Melania, 50, was “counting every minute” until her 74-year-old husband was no longer president so she could divorce him.
The Trumps have “a transactional marriage” and things are so bad they sleep in separate bedrooms in the White House, former friend and adviser Stephanie Winston Wolkoff claimed in her book.
The Trumps, whose son Barron is 14, moved back to Donald’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida as Joe Biden was sworn in as America’s 46th president on Wednesday.
As they disembarked Air Force One at Palm Beach’s airport, a stone-faced Melania kept on walking as Donald stopped to pose for the cameras.
What is Donald’s net worth?
Ms Newman, a managing partner at the Manhattan law firm of Berkman Bottger Newman & Schein, told the Mirror that the next 12 months “will be very telling” as to how their marriage plays out.
Divorce experts suspect Melania would be in a much more favourable position in the event of a divorce.
Donald’s net worth declined to $2.5 billion (£1.8 billion) in 2020 from $3.1 billion in 2019, and it might be even lower now due to hotel losses, Forbes reported. He faces a Senate trial after being impeached, and could face legal action now that he is a private citizen again.
Some reports claim former fashion model Melania, who was born in Slovenia, has a net worth of $50 million (£36.5 million).
When Donald began his only term as US president in January 2017, Melania didn’t immediately join him in Washington.
She stayed behind in New York for five months, delaying her arrival as leverage to renegotiate their prenup, which she referred to as “taking care of Barron”, to make it more generous, a book by Washington Post journalist Mary Jordan claims.
She needed time to cool off after details about the president’s alleged sexual indiscretions emerged, the book added.
It is difficult to predict the amount Melania would receive in a divorce, said Ms Newman, but she would likely end up with more than Donald’s first two wives.
She said: “I am guessing that she will receive actual cash payments as well as properties.
“Should she move back to New York City, he will be providing housing for her, whether it means her retaining a property in her own name or that he will provide her with an apartment to live in, which he would own, until their son is emancipated, which is 21 in New York.
“She will also retain any assets that are currently in her own name as well. I would not be surprised if the amounts range between $20 million and $50 million.”
Ms Newman added: “I think the next year or so will be very telling as to how things will play out with their marriage.
“Should she remain in the marriage after they leave the White House for a significant amount of time, I would imagine there may be a renegotiation of the agreement.
“However, should there be a divorce – then the need to renegotiate will be moot.”
The Trumps likely have the same “type” of prenup as before – a “title dictate” prenupt which means all assets in his name are his, those in her name are hers and any in joint name are equally divided.
Ms Newman said: “I would be surprised if there were any assets held in joint name.
“These types of prenuptial agreements often will then have a lump sum payment, or a payment over time, issued to the non-monied spouse.
“I would bet that whatever amount that Melania was due to receive under the original prenuptial agreement has now been significantly increased.”
She added: “There are probably no assets to be divided.
“It is just a question of what property or properties she will be entitled to to live in and how much of a lump sum payment she will receive, plus any spousal support.”
What about Barron?
Melania’s original prenup had not been very generous, and the new agreement ensured that Barron would not be shut out of the family business, Ms Jordan’s book claims.
Divorce experts said Melania would likely be Barron’s primary caregiver should she and Donald split.
Elspeth Kinder, head of family law at JMW Solicitors in Manchester, said: “A decision will be made based on meeting Barron’s care needs and the best way to do that.
“We may well see Melania taking the lion’s share of Barron’s care, particularly given his father’s schedule and myriad business interests, although we could also see Donald stepping back from his business empire for a while, particularly following the challenges of recent months, in which case he may wish to be more involved in his son’s life.”
Custody could be shared and Barron’s own wishes could be considered, said Phillip Rhodes, a partner in the family law team at Slater Heelis Solicitors in Manchester.
He said: “Primary custody may have been dealt with in the terms of the prenup. If not, the outcome will depend a number of factors, including Barron’s parents’ respective abilities to meet his needs.
“If they can both meet his needs then there is no reason why custody couldn’t be shared.
“However, as Barron is now 14 years’ old, his own views and wishes may be factors which are taken into consideration.
Trump’s US and UK resorts ‘protected’
Ms Kinder said the “bespoke” prenup will offer a certain degree of financial protection to Donald.
She said: “I’d expect Donald and Melania’s prenup to divide assets fairly if they choose go their separate ways.
“It’s likely that they will both have sought to retain assets that are close to their heart.
“Donald’s business interests – including Mar-a-Lago and his Scottish golf resort – are likely to be protected.”
John Szepietowski, whose past clients include disgraced former PR mogul Max Clifford, said Melania may now feel like she “requires more” from Donald upon their return to private life.
The lawyer, of Audley Chaucer Solicitors, said: “Although the details (of the prenup) remain secret, the balance may now be more in her favour.
“On divorce from Donald Trump, provided Mr Trump is not bankrupt and avoids criminal convictions, Melania Trump could face a very large settlement sum.
“If there were to be any changes, it is likely to be on Melania Trump’s terms.
“With regards to Barron Trump, Mrs Trump has been reported to have been fighting his corner, wanting proof in writing that when it came to inheritance and opportunities to be part of the Trump business, Barron would not be left out of the picture.
“As for the young Trump’s care, Melania Trump is likely to remain the primary caregiver, with a substantially large maintenance for his education and wellbeing.”
Donald’s past behaviour and allegations of affairs could come back to haunt him.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, he faced allegations of sexual assault and inappropriate sexual behaviour.
He was accused of having affairs with porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal.
A recording emerged in which Trump bragged about using his celebrity to try to have sex with women and groping them.
In a 2005 conversation with the US daytime TV programme Access Hollywood, he said: “When you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.”
He told presenter Billy Bush when he meets beautiful women he feels able to “grab them by the p****”.
Ms Johnson, head of family law at A City Law Firm in London, said it is likely that any settlement between Melania and Donald would be reached privately.
Ms Johnson said: “There could be some penalty clauses for misbehaviour, for example the allegations regarding Stormy Daniels.
“It was reported before Melania moved into the White House that she re-negotiated her pre-nuptial agreement – not surprising giving the allegations raised.
“Foremost in her mind was their child Barron.
“Further, there will no doubt be other assets built up in their marriage during the term and no doubt Melania through her lawyers will reach a private settlement.”
Nicola Poole, managing director of Hedges Law in Oxford, said Donald could try to argue that much of his current wealth is “down to his own ‘stellar’ efforts” and what he has achieved “is in his own right rather than as part of a couple”.
The court would look at what the future looks like, especially potential earnings.
Divorce lawyers will be ‘winners’
Ms Poole said: “Trump will no doubt be in huge demand from his supporters and fans – on the speaking circuit, a book can’t be far away, and of course the income from his supposedly enormous portfolio of properties and businesses.
“As the mother of his child, Melania may argue that her future income should keep reasonable pace with that of her former husband’s, so as not to create a huge disparity for Barron between his parents.
“What you can be sure of is that the winners of this divorce, should the Trumps leave the White House in different directions today, will certainly be the divorce lawyers.
“I sense litigation that would run and run.”
Properly prepared prenups should comply with certain safeguards, such as independent legal advice and disclosure of personal finances,
Mr Rhodes said: “Providing they have been met then there are very few reasons why a court would ignore the terms of a prenup.”
What did Trump’s first two wives get?
Melania and Donald first met in 1998 at a party in Manhattan where the newly separated Donald asked the fashion model, then Melania Knauss, for her phone number.
She has said she rebuffed his initial advance because he was with a date that night.
But by the next year, they were a couple.
The pair got married on January 22, 2005, and had their son Barron in 2006, the year she became a US citizen. Barron is now 14.
She is the third wife of Donald, a dad-of-five who is 24 years her senior.
His first marriage to Czech athlete and model Ivana Zelnickova officially ended in divorce in 1992 after the couple had three children, Donald Jr, Ivanka and Eric, all of whom played public roles during their father’s first term.
A second marriage to actress Marla Maples in 1993 gave Donald another daughter named Tiffany. The couple separated in 1997 and divorced in 1999.
He had prenuptial agreements with both.
Ivana Trump, now 71, reportedly received $14 million, a mansion in Connecticut and an apartment in Trump Plaza as part of their divorce.
Marla, now 57, is reported to have received a $2 million settlement.
If Donald’s third marriage ends in divorce, Melania could be in line for a lot more money than her husband’s first two wives.