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Trump spotlight shines on prenuptial agreement

The pending divorce of Donald and Ivana Trump is focusing attention on a growing trend: the signing of a prenuptial agreement by which men and, more rarely, women protect themselves from gold diggers. Donald Trump, whose fortune is estimated at $1.7-billion, says his wife of 13 years is entitled to $25-million, custody of their three children and their Connecticut mansion.

He bases this assertion on a prenuptial agreement that Ivana signed 13 years ago. It was updated from time to time as he became ever more rich.

Wednesday was a day for the Trumps to deal with their lawyers on some smaller matters. Donald met with one of his lawyers to map out a strategy for handling media coverage of the divorce. Ivana attended a birthday luncheon given for her by the wife of her lawyer (Ivana turns 41 next Tuesday).

But the spotlight remained on the prenuptial agreement.

Donald's lawyers, Stanford Lotwin and Jay Goldberg, issued a simple statement Wednesday: "Donald Trump's legal position is ironclad. Ivana's legal position is unsupportable. The agreements were made and modified upward over the course of 10 years with use and benefit of her own counsel. There is no question that these agreements will be upheld."

The lawyers base their confidence on legal precedent. Raoul L. Felder, a Manhattan divorce lawyer whom Ivana consulted last year about the agreement, said this week that prenuptial agreements have been upheld in virtually every case since a 1987 decision involving a New York real estate developer, Sol Goldman.

But Michael Kennedy, Ivana's lawyer, has said that the agreement "will have no relevance to a court because it is unconscionable and fraudulent."

The pacts have become commonplace among the very rich.

Aristotle Onassis ordered such an agreement drawn up when he married Jacqueline Onassis. So did Joan Collins when she wed Swedish rock singer Peter Holm.

The pact Jacqueline Onassis signed gave her $3-million outright, plus the interest on a $1-million trust for each of her children until they reached 21. In the event of divorce or his death, she got another $200,000 a year for life.

In return, she renounced her right to the 25 percent of his estate provided by Greek law.

In the case of Collins, the pre- nuptial agreement her lawyers drew up gave Holm 20 percent of her income, which brought him around $80,000 a month. The couple also had a bitter property dispute that was settled when Collins agreed to pay Holm $180,000 and he gave back a half-interest in a home in France.

When Hugh Hefner finally got married last year, the prenuptial agreement was 2 1/2 inches thick.

Melvin Belli, the famed San Francisco lawyer, is now mired in testy divorce proceedings with his wife, Lia. He regrets he didn't have a prenuptial agreement.

"I sure wish to hell I'd got one, but I guess I'm too old and too romantic not to give a wife a fair crack at me."

This is one of the big drawbacks to a prenuptial agreement, says lawyer Lowell Sucherman of San Francisco, who has drawn up plenty of them.

"It does take some of the romance out of the relationship," he said.

"I've had situations occur where the husband says it's not his idea, it's his accountant's idea. The woman says, 'Find somebody else.

I'm not marrying you.' " Prenuptial agreements go back in history to the time when kings formed alliances by marrying sons and daughters off to other royal lines for reasons of state.

At a more humble level, the dowry a woman brought to a marriage is an example of such a contract.

Suzie Thorn, who is representing Lia Belli in her divorce proceedings, has written perhaps 300 prenuptial agreements in 31 years of practice. She says maybe 5 percent to 10 percent of all new marriages involve premarital agreements. The cost ranges from $1,500 to $10,000.

"They'll spend that much going through a divorce, so it's a question of whether you want to spend it going into the marriage or going out of it," Thorn says.

While the legal wrangling over the Trumps' prenuptial agreement is far from over, public interest in the case continued to center on the seemingly endless flow of rumors surrounding the split.

New York's three tabloid newspapers devoted a total of 13 inside and two front pages to the story. "Gimme the Plaza!" shrieked one headline, referring to both the vaunted hotel that is one of the Trumps' many holdings and Mrs. Trump's determination to override the prenuptial agreement. "Don Juan!" accused another, asserting that Trump kept alleged girlfriend Marla Maples at a love nest in the St. Moritz Hotel.

Ivana's appearance at the birthday luncheon at La Grenouille created a mob scene in midtown Manhattan. Society columnist James Revson judged that "Mrs. Trump was very upset and very concerned. She was sort of teetering a bit."

But one of the guests who declined to give her name said, "It was wonderful. She seemed wonderful. She was very happy."

"Nobody spoke ill of Donald," added television personality Barbara Walters, another lunch guest. "There was a lot of laughing and a lot of good will."

For his part, Trump, who was not at the luncheon, tried to explain the breakup, saying, "I have always loved Ivana. Unfortunately, we have grown apart."

The media have also descended on Dalton, Ga., hometown of Maples, a 26-year-old actress. Townfolk and Maples' parents have been inundated with queries.

"Heavens to Betsy, she's no homewrecker," said Margaret Culberson, who coached Maples in a regional Miss Georgia Teen pageant. "She's one of the sweetest persons you've ever seen."

"It just came to light today," said Jim Smith, owner of the Jewel Box store in Dalton. "We read it in the Atlanta paper this morning, and now in the paper here. We think a lot of Marla here. She's a real fine actress. On a scale of one to ten, and I'm talking about her acting ability here, she's an 11."

Maples' agent, Chuck Jones, denied the rumors about an affair with Trump.

He said he paid for her room at the St. Moritz, where she filmed a soda commercial. "It was a job," he said.

"She has nothing to do with this," Jones said. "She doesn't need the publicity and doesn't want it."

Although the rumors surfaced only this week, it seems that many in New York - Trump allies, Trump foes, the press - have been watching the 12-year marriage go down the tubes for some time.

"It was a story that anyone could have broken," says Liz Smith, who finally did, in her Sunday column in the New York Daily News.

"Everyone knew this a year ago," says Graydon Carter, editor of Spy magazine. "He was always rumored to be with other women."

"You want to hear the joke running around?" asks Michael Musto of the Village Voice, who heard it over and over at Malcolm Forbes' party Monday night for his new magazine, Egg: "Donald finally bounced a Czech."

- Information from the San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post and Associated Press was used in this report.

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