A custody battle over Michael Jackson’s children could pit a grandmother’s bond against a mother’s biological link, family law experts said today.
The pop star’s mother Katherine Jackson has been granted temporary custody of Prince Michael, 12, Paris Michael, 11, and Prince Michael II, 7, at least until a court hearing in early August.
But Debbie Rowe, the mother of the two elder children, could contest the ruling, a move that will see their fate eventually settled through the courts.
As yet it is not known if Ms Rowe will attempt to win custody of her two children. She gave up custody to Jackson following their divorce in 1999. But there remains debate as to whether she legally signed away full parental rights in doing so.
The Jackson family have said they have not heard from Ms Rowe since Michael’s death was announced.
They have also asserted their authority over the three children, stating that their wellbeing was the family’s main priority.
But if Ms Rowe does contest the petition filed at Los Angeles Superior Court, it is unlikely to be a straightforward decision for the courts
Lawyer Gloria Allred has ample experience when it comes to high profile cases involving the offspring of celebrities. Among her clients have been Spice Girl Melanie Brown, who employed the LA-based lawyer in her legal battles against Eddie Murphy.
The experienced family law expert said that if Ms Rowe does seek custody then the law will have to weigh a parent’s rights against what is best for the children.
She said “The question is whether Debbie Rowe is going to assert her right to custody. Is she does exercise her right, then she will have an advantage because she is the biological parent.
“On the other hand, the court will always act in the child’s best interest. And it is probably beyond dispute that the grandmother has been with the children far more than the mother has.”
Ms Allred said in such circumstances she couldn’t predict a likely outcome.
“Anything is possible, this is an unusual set of circumstance. They will look at a number of factors. They will order an evaluation of the children and the proposed guardian and the parent.”
Marshall Waller, family law specialist at Feinberg and Waller, suggested that the bond built up by Katherine Jackson with her grandchildren could put her in a strong legal position.
He said: “Under Californian law there is a priority to a biological parent so Debbie Rowe will have a leg up.”
“But the court can make a decision against a biological parent if it would be detrimental to the children.”
“The bottom line is what is best for the kids.”
Mr Waller continued: “My understanding is Ms Rowe hasn’t had much contact with the children. Whereas the grandmother has had a regular and consistent history of interaction with the children and they have bonded with her.
“And that will go a very long way to the determination of placing.”
An added complication is the fact that Ms Rowe is not the mother of Jackson’s youngest child.
“Debbie Rowe has no position on the youngest child. Splitting up the children would be the wrong thing to do,” Mr Waller said.