Michael Jackson’s ex-wife, the mother of his two older children, is in line to obtain custody of them, even if the pop star designated another person as their guardian after his death, legal experts said Friday.
University of California at Berkeley law professor Herma Kay Hill said it was “not a slam dunk” that ex-wife Debbie Rowe would win custody, but four other experts in family law said she would have the advantage if a custody battle ensued.
Rowe initially signed a contract waiving her parental rights to Prince Michael Jr., 12, and Paris Michael Katherine, 11. She later changed her mind, and the custody battle was eventually settled out of court. Law professors said the kind of contract Rowe signed was clearly illegal.
University of Southern California law professor Scott Altman said a legal battle over Jackson’s three children “seems almost inevitable.” Complicating the custody picture is the fact that the youngest child, 7-year-old Prince Michael II, was borne by a surrogate, and Jackson may have left large sums of money to the children.
In deciding custody issues, a court also could consider whether it would harm the children to be split up, Altman said. But a court is not obligated to respect the wishes a parent stated in a will.
Jackson and Rowe married in 1996. They divorced in 1999. Although there is wide speculation that Jackson was not the biological father of Rowe’s children, he was the legal father under California law.