Robert De Niro’s finances have taken a beating during the coronavirus pandemic, his attorneys have claimed, as they sought to prevent his estranged wife from accessing more of his $500 million fortune.
De Niro, 76, has been battling his ex-wife Grace Hightower, 65, over the terms of their divorce.
The pair confirmed their separation in November 2018 after 21 years together.
De Niro has been riding out COVID-19 from his upstate New York compound in the village of Gardiner, and appeared at the hearing on the phone over Skype.
Robert De Niro and Grace Hightower, pictured in April 2018, seven months before they confirmed their separation after 21 years of marriage. The divorce battle is now being fought
De Niro and Hightower, pictured in September 1998 – a year after their wedding
The emergency hearing was called after De Niro halved Hightower’s monthly American Express credit card limit, cutting it from $100,000 to $50,000.
She also said she and their two children, Helen, 8, and Elliot, 21, had been banned from the upstate compound.
Caroline Krauss, De Niro’s attorney, told the judge that De Niro had to reduce her allowance because his businesses and career had suffered since the pandemic hit.
She said his Nobu restaurant and hotel empire – founded in 1994, now with 41 restaurants and 18 hotels in North and South America, Europe, Mexico and the Caribbean, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Australia – lost $3 million in April and another $1.87 million in May.
On Monday it emerged the chain took 14 loans from the U.S. small business relief program for as much as $28 million, according to government filings.
He also owns The Greenwich hotel, which has been largely empty due to the pandemic.
The Greenwich hotel, owned by De Niro, has been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic
De Niro with Nobu Matsuhisa, with whom he founded a restaurant business 25 years ago
Krauss said he also had to pay investors $500,000 on a capital call, which he borrowed money from his business partners to make, ‘because he doesn’t have the cash,’ she said, according to The New York Post.
She explained that under the terms of their 2004 prenuptial agreement De Niro is required to pay Hightower $1 million a year as long as he’s making $15 million or more in income, and if his income declines, so do his payments to her.
‘His accounts and business manager says that the best case for Mr De Niro, if everything starts to turn around this year, he is going to be lucky if he makes $7.5 million this year,’ Krauss said.
She said that proceeds from De Niro’s latest film – Netflix’s The Irishman, nominated for 10 Oscars – have mostly already been paid out and he is likely to get just $2.5 million in 2020 and 2021.
And a movie project that De Niro was scheduled to begin filming this summer in Oklahoma has been put on hold, Krauss explained.
She said that ‘these people’ – seemingly a reference to Hightower and their children – placed great financial demands on De Niro, preventing him from retiring.
‘These people, in spite of his robust earnings, have always spent more than he has earned,’ Krauss said, according to the paper.
‘So this 76-year-old robust man couldn’t retire even if he wanted to because he can’t afford to keep up with his lifestyle expense.’
She said that De Niro has begun cutting back his own spending ‘dramatically.’
De Niro, pictured at the Oscars in February this year, is worth more than $500 million
Hightower’s lawyer, Kevin McDonough, said it was laughable to suggest that De Niro had fallen on hard times.
‘The idea that Mr De Niro is tightening his belt is nonsense,’ he said.
‘Mr De Niro has used the COVID pandemic, my words would be, to stick it to his wife financially.
‘I’m not a believer that a man who has an admitted worth of $500 million and makes $30 million a year, all of a sudden in March he needs to cut down [spousal support] by 50 per cent and ban her from the house.’
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Matthew Cooper issued a temporary ruling that De Niro could keep Hightower’s credit card limit at $50,000 a month.
But he ruled that De Niro should pay her $75,000 so she can find a summer home for their two children, while De Niro and his other children remain in his three-house compound upstate.
‘I am not requiring at this point that Mr De Niro restore the credit card to $100,000,’ Cooper said.
‘$50,000 seems to be certainly enough to avoid irreparable harm.’