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Challenging A Prenuptial Agreement in Illinois: Lessons From the Divorce of Kevin Costner and Christine Baumgartner

By Corri Fetman | March 04, 2024

In the realm of celebrity divorces, where amicable separations seem to be the trend, the dissolution of Kevin Costner’s marriage to Christine Baumgartner has emerged as a captivating departure. What initially appeared as a routine divorce took a tumultuous turn when Baumgartner resisted vacating the family home within 30 days of the initiation of divorce proceedings, thus challenging the stipulations of a 2004 prenuptial agreement.

Prenuptial Agreements are almost always advised for high net worth or any smart individuals that want to protect assets such as, a pension, 401k plan, bank accounts, house or any business ventures in the event of divorce or death. Prenuptial Agreements are highly effective instruments for clarifying what would be considered nonmarital/separate and marital assets in a divorce. A Prenuptial Agreement can simplify divorce negotiations and avoid conflict by setting expectations in advance. A prenuptial agreement should be drafted very carefully and strategically. In Costner’s case, Costner was successful and the prenuptial agreement was upheld. In fact, Christine Baumgartner’s attempts to challenge the prenuptial agreement failed.

By way of example, the judge ordered Baumgartner to pay the $14,000 in Costner’s legal bills. This is in addition to her losing her bid for $248,000 in child support. On September 1, 2023, TMZ also reported “The judge in Kevin and Christine’s divorce ruled Friday that Kevin’s going to be forking over $63,209 – that’s exactly what he said was appropriate. $63k is less than half of what she was getting in temporary support – $129k. And remember, she originally asked for $248k a month.”

In a later report out of TMZ, “The judge also made it pretty clear … the prenup would be enforced, and if Christine challenged it she would have to repay Kevin more than $1 million and pay his attorney’s fees for the prenup fight. Apparently, Christine saw the handwriting on the wall and agreed to the terms of a 3-page settlement letter.”

Thereafter, the case settled fairly quickly and was resolved in Costner’s favor.

Understanding prenuptial agreements

Baumgartner’s lack of understanding of her rights prior to getting married and the ramifications of the prenuptial agreement caused a myriad of issues, including but not limited to, an unnecessary debt to Costner by an order requiring her to pay Costner’s legal fees and, most importantly, a complete failure to the challenge of the prenuptial agreement. Baumgartner was “banking on” (pun intended) making the divorce public and trying to negotiate a better deal in the press and trying to play victim. It backfired. Perhaps, Baumgartner may have fared better if she tried to negotiate quietly and forge a better deal behind the scenes. Quite often, celebrities prefer to demonstrate generosity in exchange for confidentiality.

A premarital agreement, also known as a prenuptial agreement is a legal contract entered into by two individuals before they get married. This agreement outlines the rights and responsibilities of each spouse regarding their assets, debts, and other financial matters in the event of divorce, separation, or the death of one spouse.

Prenuptial agreements are legally binding contracts, but they are subject to certain legal requirements and limitations. For example, they must be entered into voluntarily, both parties must be represented by their own counsel, with full financial disclosure from both parties, and without any duress or coercion.

Why would I want a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement?

There are many reasons why you may desire a prenuptial agreement. Here are a few of the most common concerns (this is not a comprehensive list):

  • You own assets: If you own property, have money, or other assets, you may want to protect those assets in the event of a divorce. A prenuptial agreement can help you do that by specifying how those assets will be divided in the event of divorce or death.
  • You have children from a previous relationship: If you have children from a previous relationship, you may want to make sure that their inheritance is protected in the event of a divorce. A prenuptial agreement can help you do that by specifying how your assets will be divided.
  • You are marrying later in life: If you are marrying later in life, you may have already accumulated assets and those assets must be maintained so you can maintain your lifestyle and preserve your retirement funds. You may want to protect retirement and your assets by entering into a prenuptial agreement.
  • You have different financial expectations: If you and your partner have different financial expectations, a prenuptial agreement can help you clarify those expectations and avoid conflict in the future.
  • Divorce/No Payment of Alimony: Perhaps, all of your friends or family endured ugly divorces and you still have nightmares from their horror stories. You may decide you want to make sure you leave the marriage without paying maintenance or alimony, save money on attorneys’ fees and keep all your assets upon any divorce.
  • Difficult to Challenge: Like Costner, making sure the prenuptial agreement will withstand any challenge is paramount. Including a provision relating to a “no contest clause” is usually a good idea as well.

What are my options for the prenuptial agreement process?

An ounce of prevention is better than a cure. Drafting a fair and reasonable prenuptial agreement that is overseen by skilled and ethical divorce attorneys is the first step to ensuring a prenuptial agreements works as it is intended. In most cases, prenuptials agreements can make a complicated situation more transparent and efficient. If a prenuptial agreement is unfair, or if you feel the challenge to a prenuptial agreement is unwarranted you should hire a highly skilled Illinois divorce attorney as soon as possible.

A prenuptial agreement is a document that could determine your financial future. Therefore, how you deal with any related issues that arise during your divorce is critical and time sensitive. If you want a solid prenuptial agreement drafted, if you are facing problems in your divorce related to a prenuptial agreement, or if you are thinking of challenging a prenuptial agreement, or if you just want to be sure you are signing a prenuptial agreement that is fair, reasonable and will stand the test of time, please contact our experienced, thorough and highly skilled Illinois divorce attorneys to guide you through the process.

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