An extremely unusual child support lawsuit is coming up for trial in California. Two grown children of billionaire land developer Donald Bren are suing him for $400,000 per month in back child support. Each. For fourteen years.
The total amount sought by the two children is said to be over $134 million, or more than $67 million for each child. This despite the fact that he has already paid $9 million in child support over the years for the two children.
The case has major implications both for child support policy and for fathers' rights. The 78-year-old billionaire has been extremely private about his personal fortune and spending habits, but Forbes has estimated is fortune at around $12 billion. He is known as a generous philanthropist and has a reputation as a major political donor.
More important, his situation sheds a spotlight on questions about how much child support is fair and reasonable.
How Much Child Support Is Enough?
In Georgia, child support is generally calculated using a statutory formula called the Georgia child support guidelines. The guidelines take into account the incomes of both parents, whether either parent is paying child support to other children, health insurance costs, special circumstances, and deviations -- including whether one parent has especially high income.
In this case, the amount of child support Donald Bren would pay for the benefit of these two children was determined by a private agreement with their mother, his former girlfriend Jennifer McKay Gold. The amount was specified at $10,000 per month for each child.
Under California's child support guidelines, which take into account both the fact of one parent's high income and his or her spending habits, Bren would have been expected to pay much more than $10,000 a month, the two adult children argue. The plaintiffs essentially contend that Bren would have been expected to support them in the same high style he was enjoying.
They estimate Bren spent about $3 to $5 million per month on his own lavish lifestyle, which they say included five private jets, two full-time pilots, a 240-foot yacht and crew, homes in Bel-Air and Orange County, California, a ranch in Idaho and a large household staff.
Bren's attorney disputes that amount, and Bren has been notoriously private about his lifestyle.
Regardless of his wealth, Bren's attorney argues that $400,000 a month in child support would be absurd. That figure is about eight times an average American's annual income.
"He's paid millions of dollars, and now 15 years later [Ms. Gold is] coming out with an oral promise that she told no one about," Mr. Bren's attorney told the Los Angeles Times. "She's just trying to get more money out of him."
The child support lawsuit was filed in 2003 and has been in litigation since then. Considering how much Bren values his privacy, court watchers speculate it may settle shortly before trial.
What do you think?
- "Billionaire Is Sued for $400,000 a Month in Retroactive Child Support" (The Wealth Report blog, The Wall Street Journal, August 18, 2010)
- "Billionaire Donald Bren's child-support case to go to trial" (Los Angeles Times, August 14, 2010)