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Courts: Billionaire Kirk Kerkorian's ex-wife says their daughter, 3, needs $320,000 a month

 Kirk Kerkorian died Tuesday at the age of 98. This story from the archives looks at a custody dispute that made headlines more than a decade ago. Kerkorian later said publicly that the child was not his biological daughter:

The court file chronicling Kirk and Lisa Bonder Kerkorian's decade-long courtship, monthlong marriage and newly escalating child support dispute leaves no doubt that the rich are indeed different from the rest of us.

In what is being touted as a test case for California's wealthiest parents, the billionaire MGM studio and casino mogul and his former tennis pro wife are fighting in Los Angeles Superior Court over just how much money it takes to properly raise their 3-year-old daughter.

Is it $35,000 a month, as he suggested in the prenuptial agreement; $50,000 a month, as they agreed to in the divorce settlement; or $75,000, as he paid from August 2000 to September 2001? How about $320,000, the amount of money she says was lavished each month on little Kira's lifestyle while her parents got along?

When times were good, court papers say, money was no object. In March 1999, 20 children and 30 adults attended Kira's first birthday party, held at the posh Hotel Bel-Air at a cost of $70,000. Despite her tender years, Kira has flown more than 35 times from Los Angeles to New York, France and beyond--always on private jets.

At her 84-year-old father's insistence, Kira had three nannies fussing over her as she was shuttled among the $13-million, 23-acre gated estate overlooking Benedict Canyon, the $5-million Las Vegas house, her father's new $10-million house a few blocks from the Beverly Hills Hotel and her mother's renovated $8-million home nearby.

Lisa Kerkorian, 36, last week took the bold step of making public what previously had been a very private matter. She filed a 33-page court declaration that lays bare details of the personal life of a billionaire known for guarding his privacy.

For a time it seemed that Kerkorian would keep a lid on publicity about the marriage and divorce by filing for an expedited dissolution with no hearings. His lawyers argued in court papers that Kerkorian is "a very famous man," and that "the matter of his divorce has been kept entirely confidential to the extent possible."

No more.

Lisa Kerkorian's declaration reads like a novel. And that, said Kirk Kerkorian's lawyer, Dennis M. Wasser, in an interview, "is because to a large extent it is fiction."

As she tells the story in court papers, she met Kerkorian in 1986, and they became tennis partners and friends. In 1991, as her first marriage crumbled, they became romantically involved. Kerkorian urged her to "walk away" from the marriage without demanding alimony and child support for her son so that he wouldn't be dragged into a public divorce battle, she says.

She became Kerkorian's "constant companion" and hostess at social events with dignitaries such as Lee Iaccoca and Alexander Haig. When Kerkorian opened the MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas in 1993, she was at his side, entertaining guests at the VIP party. They traveled, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on vacations in Hawaii and Europe. They went out to dinner almost every night. He was a heavy tipper, and "Kirk's name and a $100 bill were enough to get him the finest table at any of the top restaurants in town," she says in court papers.

"Money was never a limitation, or even a consideration, when Kirk wanted to either construct, acquire, own, charter, hire or pay for such desires as homes, airplanes, yachts, hotels, cars, staff or entertainment. Essentially, whatever Kirk wanted, Kirk got," she says.

She pressed him to marry her, and when he wouldn't she tried to leave him during the summer of 1997. But when she learned in August of that year that she was pregnant, Kerkorian welcomed their child,she says. Still, he wanted nothing to do with marriage. That's when lawyers became involved.

She was eager to give their relationship "dignity and respect" and to "legitimize" their child. Kira was born March 9, 1998, but the Kerkorians wouldn't marry until the following August--and then only if she'd agree to file for divorce a month later. The 28-day union and swift, uncontested divorce left her "heartbroken," she says.

There was another condition: She waived all her rights to spousal support. She says she agreed to that provision because "I believed and hoped that Kirk's and my marriage would last. Actually, I was afraid to object because I felt that if I did, Kirk would not marry me." Besides, she says, he'd promised to always take care of Kira's every need. "In all our discussions" about Kira, "the word 'needs' never meant basic needs, but what was required to maintain her in the station of life and with all the things and benefits befitting the daughter of Kirk Kerkorian."

Kirk Kerkorian paid for Kira's vacation and travel expenses, and for a time supplied $20,000 to $30,000 in cash each month in addition to the agreed-upon child support, the court papers say. But, his former wife charges that he drew the purse strings tighter as their relationship chilled. She accuses him of using his wealth to try to control her. When she balked at his demand that she and Kira continue to live in Beverly Hills, she says he withdrew the perks, at one point telling her, "My airplane is no longer part of your lifestyle."

Lisa Kerkorian is now asking the court to award Kira $320,000 a month--$3.8 million a year. As a compromise, she suggests Kerkorian pay $220,000 a month and allow his daughter to fly five times a year on his private $56-million Boeing 737, which is equipped with a living room, kitchen, two bedrooms and seats for 21 passengers.

"I have been advised that there has never been a child support order in the amount I am seeking in California," Lisa Kerkorian acknowledges in her declaration. She went on to speculate that most fathers of comparable wealth, even after a break-up with the mother, opt to maintain a child's lavish lifestyle rather than engage in a public court fight.

With people of average income, calculating support is fairly simple. Income figures and expenses are applied against a standard computerized formula, which determines how much support should be paid. But applying the program to the extremely wealthy is not practical or possible. In this case, all a judge can do is look at the past.

For Kira--and her mother--the private jets, chartered yachts, summers in France, nannies, gardeners, housekeepers, security guards and almost unlimited supply of cash are things of the past. Lisa Kerkoriansays she's selling her own securities to maintain Kira's lifestyle. It can't be done on $50,000 a month, she says. She's "house rich and cash poor."

So far, only her side of the story has surfaced in the public record, but his lawyer promises a strong response. Wasser said she "deliberately" breached previous confidentiality agreements by filing her papers in the public divorce file, rather than in the sealed paternity case file. By making the dispute public, Wasser said, she disregarded her daughter's best interest.

Her version, Wasser charged, "is built on a bed of lies. Now that she has unfortunately chosen to make it a public issue, it will be necessary for Mr. Kerkorian to fully respond to all those allegations, to refute them and to ensure that the court has compelling evidence of the truth."

For now, though, Kirk Kerkorian is maintaining his silence.

Lisa Kerkorian's lawyer, Stephen A. Kolodny, said his client is being truthful and shakes his head at the prospect of a nasty court battle. "It's all over money," he said. "All over money when it's got to be a meaningless commodity because he has so much of it. The last thing Lisa wanted to do was get involved in litigation with Kerkorian. He's a tough guy."

For a while, the couple kept things civil. After signing both the marriage and divorce papers, they went out to dinner as usual, leaving Kira at home with her nannies. They continued to travel and live together at his estate, even after the divorce. She and Kira resided in the main house, while Kerkorian occupied the guest house.

Their falling out, according to the court file, came during the summer of 2000 when she confronted him about rumors that he'd been seeing other women. While she vacationed at a $100,000-a-month Malibu beach house, he traveled in Europe and sailed aboard a chartered 209-foot yacht. Finally, that August, she vowed to leave Kerkorian after running into him at a Los Angeles restaurant while he was on a date with another woman.

Still, he continued to pay for renovations to a home for Kira and her mother in Beverly Hills. He supplied an additional $3 million to complete the project. But in August, after she announced she was moving with Kira to New York, he demanded repayment. Then, within days, he placed a lien on the property.

Lisa Kerkorian maintains that the home improvement money was a gift and is asking the court to declare it as such. Kirk Kerkorian insists that it was a loan.

A hearing is scheduled March 11--just two days after Kira's fourth birthday. Family law attorneys say Kerkorian vs. Kerkorian could be the California test case that determines how lavish a lifestyle thechildren of the very wealthy can expect if their parents divorce.

California law does not set a cap on child support payments, and the state's guidelines give judges wide discretion in cases involving the wealthy. In Los Angeles, for example, anyone who makes more than $750,000 a year is considered a high earner in some courtrooms. In others, the figure is $1 million, said Beverly Hills attorney Daniel Jay Jaffe, who is not involved in the Kerkorian dispute.

But just how much does a billionaire's child really need?

Among the monthly expenses Lisa Kerkorian lists: $144,000 for travel; $14,000 for parties and play dates; $7,000 for charity; $4,300 for food, plus $5,900 to eat out; $2,500 for movies, theaters and outings; $1,400 for laundry and cleaning; $1,000 for toys, videos and books; and $436 for care of Kira's bunny and other pets.

Lawyers say it is common practice for spouses seeking child support to submit high-end figures as a negotiating tactic.

Attorney Jaffe said at the very least, a child of the very wealthy should expect a nice home and the best schools and medical care. Use of the private jet? Probably not.

If Lisa Kerkorian prevails, $320,000 a month would be by far the most expensive child support award in California. Even if she doesn't win everything she seeks, the amount of support he was paying voluntarily, as revealed in the court papers, already exceed the state's largest awards--or at least those that have become known publicly through litigation.

Those cases involved entertainment and sports figures, who were ordered to pay monthly support of $20,000 or slightly more. Even last year's notoriously contentious child support battle in New York between Revlon magnate Ronald Perelman and his former wife, Democratic fund-raiser Patricia Duff, resulted in a comparatively paltry monthly award of $12,825.

In that case, Justice Franklin Weissberg sniffed at the notion that little Caleigh, then 5, might grow up feeling deprived if she didn't receive $100,000 of her father's money each month.

And, the judge noted, child support should not become "disguised alimony."

At least as far as Forbes magazine is concerned, Perelman and the other fathers weren't in Kerkorian's financial league. None of them appear on the magazine's annual list of the world's richest people.Kerkorian has been a fixture on the list since at least 1972. This year, he ranks 46th, with an estimated $6.4-billion fortune. He is the majority shareholder of MGM Mirage Inc. and one of the largest individual shareholders of DaimlerChrysler. He's known as the king of the Las Vegas Strip.

Lisa Kerkorian also is a woman of rank. In 1987, she ranked seventh on the pro circuit, according to the Women's Tennis Assn. When she quit the pro tour in 1988, according to her divorce papers, she earned $4,000 a month.

MORE ON THE CASE

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