California billionaire Donald Bren had two children with former girlfriend Jennifer McKay Gold. They had a 13 year long affair, but they never married and he had little involvement with the children. Gold claims that Bren promised he would be involved in the children’s lives and that his failure to do so is a violation of agreements between them. Therefore Gold and the children, David Bren, age 18, and Christie Bren, age 22, decided to sue Donald Bren for $134 million in back child support.
Donald Bren is Rich
Bren is very secretive and media-shy about his life, income, and assets. Estimates are that his assets may be worth around $12 billion, largely derived from real estate development in Southern California. Forbes Magazines has placed him 16th on its list of the 400 richest Americans.
He and his attorney claim he paid about $10 million in child support, vacations, cars, and other payments and gifts to Gold and the children during their childhood. He felt obligated to ensure they would receive advanced education through graduate school if they wished, received luxury German cars when they started to drive, and live in an upper middle class standard of living well beyond that of most of the US population. Clearly these children were not in need of more money.
Is Gold a Golddigger?
Gold disagrees on the amounts. She and the children also claim that he owes far more because he didn’t stay involved in their lives.
The suit sought $400,000 a month for each of the children in retroactive child support from 1988 to 2002. Their mother testified she received a total of about $3 million for them during that period.
Four contracts were created involving child support each time Gold became pregnant and after the children were born. The accords, beginning in 1988, rose from $3,500 a month to $18,000 a month between 1992 and 2002.
Gold said she accepted it because Donald Bren promised to have a relationship with the children. But Gold said he ignored the children when they approached him in a restaurant in 2001, and she realized Bren was reneging on his promise. He testified there never was a promise.
Kids Need Both Parents More Than Luxury Lifestyles
Children benefit from having two loving parents with continuing involvement in their lives. They learn different things from each parent.
Donald Bren should have put much more effort and time into the relationships with the children. But it is hard to believe, given the endless problems often caused by custodial parents over the other parent seeing the children, that Gold was completely innocent in the matter. Further, that they conceived children during a rather unusual long-term affair during which they didn’t see each other for months at a time seems totally irresponsible of both of them.
Nobody can argue that these children were seriously deprived of anything financially. Donald Bren made sure of that, even though he failed to ensure they had a loving involved father.
This is an era in which billionaires such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett frown upon passing along their bulk of their wealth to their descendants, even though they are far more involved as fathers than Bren ever was. They instead prefer to contribute their billions to foundations and charities designed to better the life of millions of people around the world. Can you imagine the children of those billionaires suing their parents for massive inheritances? Gates and Buffett would likely fight such suits, too.
Should Donald Bren be treated any differently simple because he was and is still not an actively involved parent? There are many parents who avoid being actively involved in their children’s lives. This is really poor judgment and not the best decision for the children, but does not seem like it should subject them to massive civil liability well beyond that of 99.999% of the other parents out there in the world simply because they are rich.
Media Focuses on Money and Credibility
So far much of the media coverage seems to focus on whether Gold and kids are golddiggers and who is most believable.
Questions that must be on jurors’ minds: Did Jennifer trick him into getting her pregnant (twice) – which would make her a gold digger? (Because what woman has a 10-year thing with a man unless he told her he loved her, oh, at least twice?) Did Bren ever promise to do more than he already has for these kids?
If it comes down to the he-said/she-said with the jury, I’m not sure who cuts the less-sympathetic figure: the icy billionaire who twice knocked up a woman 23 years his junior, or the well-plasticized ex-model who somehow managed to get pregnant twice by the same guy and then couldn’t make it as a single mom on only $3 million. (Which was actually $9 million, but for legal reasons, the jury isn’t allowed to know about the other $6 million.)
Conflict Created By A Mixture of Selfishness, Dishonesty, and Unwritten Expectations and Intentions
There are many more serious issues and lessons here than just the size of bank accounts and the wholesomeness of parenting styles, however. These issues apply to a lot more people who aren’t and never will be billionaires.
For one, given the well-documented benefits for children having both of their parents actively involved in their lives, it seems the extreme focus on the money is amply illustrating how men are regarded in American society. They are banks for the benefit of females and children. This implies that fathers who are not able to give millions to their children and ex’s are inferior men. That’s the wrong message to be sending. A father’s value to the children is more than just money and money cannot make up for not having a father. The same can be said of mothers, too, even though it isn’t as common for the media to be fixated on “rich absent moms” for various reasons.
Another big point here is how this lawsuit was filed in 2003. What is wrong with California courts that it takes 7 years to hear a lawsuit like this one? Many Californians are upset about their divorces and child custody battles taking several years, even their children’s entire childhoods, and some are still are not resolved until well after all the children are adults. Long-duration conflict like this is not good for kids, be they rich, poor, or somewhere in between. The courts need to be processing cases much more quickly than they are.
A central issue here is the differing expectations that Gold and Bren claim were present in their relationship and specifically their differences regarding children. Striking differences are often present in many divorces. While Gold’s and Bren’s stated positions are not entirely typical, what is typical is they don’t agree at all. Either one or both are not telling the truth or they failed to ever have a meaningful conversation about relationships and families. People who have never have discussed such serious matters have no business having children together.
In the typical American divorce and child custody battle, it is more common that the female ex claims that the male ex promised her a fortune, would let her be a stay at home mother, and would let her do whatever she wants with the kids for the rest of their lives. The male ex claims that none of that was true, he had every expectation that she would contribute to the family finances, and he expected to be able to spend considerable time with the kids.
Perhaps what is really needed in this age of immorality and unethical behaviors is something that would seem extreme in America: licenses to have sex and children.
To get a license to have sex, the parties would have to fill out an agreement on what their expectations and intentions are for their relationship and for any potential children.
It might be a good idea to require they are tested for common sexually transmitted diseases, too. After all, it is no fair to conceive a child who contracts AIDS in utero and is doomed to an abnormally short and miserable life.
Only after the parties have a mutual understanding memorialized in writing and have reviewed each other’s test results could they get their sex license. Absent a license with an agreed plan for handling children, the mom could do whatever she wants with the resulting children and the dad would have no obligations to her or the children in any way unless they both agreed otherwise. Obviously this would create a clear incentive to follow the process to get the license if the mom cared about the money or the dad cared about the children.
As added incentive to discuss and agree to a plan for children before conceiving, perhaps both should also be fined for conceiving a child without a license with the proceeds going to the child’s medical and educational expenses. They could avoid the fine if they agree to a child plan after the fact.
If both parties do not agree that they are willing to raise children together ensuring the children have approximately equal time with both parents, then to get the sex license both would have to agree to use very reliable birth control methods such as Norplant and vasectomies.
Such a sex license system might get rid of a lot of the reasons for divorce and child custody battles. It could also help streamline the disastrous family law courts by causing there to be written agreements on what each party expected and offered during a relationship and how they planned to handle children. There would be much less reliance on the he-said/she-said perjury festivals held in family law courtrooms daily.
The system for deciding child custody and support issues that we have today in the United States can’t be much worse than it is. Children are today used as weapons by one parent to attack the other parent in a battle that is often for entirely selfish reasons that have no relation to what is best for the children. The government ensures there are plenty of incentives to do this. It also uses this system to micromanage and enslave tens of millions of children and parents. All of that is far more un-American and damaging to society than any such sex license system could ever be.