By: Debra Opri – Attorney and Legal Analyst
Paternity cases seem to be everywhere today. The latest paternity case filing in the media and its subsequent dismissal has many wondering – not whether Michael Jordan is the father of a 16-year-old boy – but what took this child’s mother so long to file a paternity action in the first place. Having handled high-profile paternity cases over the years, I think this is not favorable for either the mother or Michael Jordan.
So a woman has a child 16 years ago, assumedly by Michael Jordan, But we never hear about it. Why? Because a paternity action was never filed. Why? Maybe the woman didn’t want the media attention. Maybe she didn’t need the money; maybe she was independently wealthy, married to someone else, or just plain out of touch with legal issues protecting her minor child’s financial support. Maybe, in fact, she and Michael Jordan reached an out-of-court settlement as to the issue of support. Maybe there was a paternity test taken, and no need by Michael Jordan to air this matter publicly when the only dispute was how much to pay for the child’s support. So, in my opinion, if there wasn’t a filing sixteen years ago, can we assume the mother was being compensated all these years by (probably) Michael Jordan. Perhaps. And, at this point, does it matter?
What does matter is that Michael Jordan didn’t take too well to a court filing now. And instead of making a public statement to the effect of, “a paternity test/DNA sampling will be taken to clear up this paternity filing, to prove I have no connection to this woman,” instead the media announced that this filing would produce a “sanctions request” by Jordan if this matter was not dismissed (ie., Michael Jordan would be seeking attorney’s fees against the woman for his having to go to court at all, or alternatively, for breaching a ‘confidentiality provision’ which may have been part of any agreement the parties “may” have entered into). Again, we don’t know. But, interestingly, if we consider human nature, would the actions of this woman in filing a paternity action be more revealing of what she may have demanded all these years later that may or may not have been her right contractually to ask for? In clear terms, was there a written agreement between these parties which may have already resolved any and all issues such that a public legal filing was expressly forbidden such to provide that Michael Jordan would be entitled to sanctions at this time due to this filing?
In the eyes of many, the opinion is probably that Michael Jordan may very well be the father of the 16-year-old boy. But we may never know for sure, which is okay. It is his personal life, and he has a right to keep his personal life…well, personal. As the media goes, if they are correctly “reading between the lines” in this filing, factually there was a paternity filing because there was a pregnancy, and someone fathered a child 16 years ago. If, as the media would assume, communication was made with Michael Jordan or his reps way back then, a settlement was engaged in and financial compensation was agreed upon, then what, exactly happened to motivate this woman all these years later to file a public legal document? Assume that all these years later her compensation either stopped, or it was no longer enough money for the woman, such that she threatened and then filed the paternity case when her demands went unmet. The law states that a paternity filing can be done as long as the child is a minor. In California, the child is no longer a minor at the age of emancipation, which is 18 years old, or no longer in high school, generally. In the jurisdiction where the paternity action was filed, it may be somewhat different, but probably generally the same.
So what is the lesson to be learned here, what the courts are for? Are they to be part of a parent’s demand for money, or in some instances, for more money? Are the courts part of the bargaining chips of a woman who sleeps with a celebrity and gets pregnant? And then again, what about the responsibility of the celebrity? How many women can one celebrity sleep with without protection before the chips fall “unfavorably?” And what about the children conceived from such irresponsibility? If in fact, neither party ever intended that should a child come of this union, however, brief, one or more of them would be willing to engage in the parenting of this child?
If we are to accept the plausibility that Michael Jordan is in fact the 16-year-old child’s father, then didn’t he fulfill his obligations as the child’s biological father and pay his due? And is this enough? Did or does he have a relationship with the 16-year-old? Did he make payments and then stop? Did he feel he was being held up, for lack of a better choice of words, for more money than he thought he should have to pay, or which contractually the mother had no right to ask for?
We may never know, and why should we? But we should know this: the courts should not be used as a bargaining chip in dealing with a celebrity and their personal life. The threat of media exposure, while ideal to some, will always produce a response by the celebrity such that the person threatening an ‘embarrassing revelation’ against the celebrity may misfire.
In my dealings with celebrities the worse thing to do is threaten them. If legal action is warranted, then just do it. But by no means does one have a child and then 16 years later decide to make it public. In the end, no one wins, and there will be one big loser: the child. Think twice before media threats of exposure via the courts, because in the end, you’re only hurting the child.
As for Michael Jordan, and other celebrities like him, think before you embroil yourself in a relationship such to have this kind of possibility, and always, once you do… get a confidentiality clause in there and make sure your adversary knows it will be enforced in a significant financial manner against them if they don’t adhere to their agreement.