Los Angeles — Given the secrecy surrounding Michael Jackson’s children throughout his life, it’s no surprise that there are lingering questions about who will care for them after his death. What is almost certain is this: Their fate will be decided in a courtroom, with several people possibly vying for custody.
Experts say the person who has the strongest legal claim to Jackson’s two oldest children is their mother, Deborah Rowe. As for the youngest child, Jackson’s wishes will be more influential.
It remains unclear who Jackson designated as potential guardians for his children. Those details — likely contained in the 50-year-old singer’s will — have not been released.
Rowe’s attorney, Marta Almli, wrote in a statement Saturday that “Ms. Rowe’s only thoughts at this time have been regarding the devastating loss Michael’s family has suffered. Ms. Rowe requests that Michael’s family, and particularly the children, be spared such harmful, sensationalist speculation and that they be able to say goodbye to their loved one in peace.”
Jackson never told his family whom he had in place to handle his business affairs, a person close to the family told The Associated Press on Friday. The person, who requested anonymity because of the delicate nature of the situation, said they were told by the singer’s phalanx of advisers that he likely had a will, but it may be many years old.
The person also said that the children are still in the care of the extended Jackson family for the moment.
Jackson left behind three children: Michael Joseph Jackson Jr., known as Prince Michael, 12; Paris Michael Katherine Jackson, 11; and Prince Michael II, 7. The elder children were born to Rowe, while the youngest is his biological son, born to a surrogate mother.
Prince Michael II’s mother has never been identified, and while she may surface, it is likely that she signed away her rights, said Stacy Phillips, a Los Angeles divorce attorney who has represented numerous high-profile clients.
Jackson was by several accounts an attentive and loving father.
“He was a great father,” said Raymone Bain, Jackson’s former publicist and general manager. “Those kids knew three and four languages. Even the little one. They were well mannered and sweet. I can’t imagine these children without him.”
He was extremely protective of his children, who weren’t often seen in public, and were photographed wearing veils, masks or other items covering their faces when they were.
Rowe, a former nurse for Jackson’s dermatologist, married Jackson in 1996 but filed for divorce in 1999. She later gave up her custody rights to the children, but petitioned to have those rights restored in 2003 after Jackson was arrested on child molestation charges, and an appeals court sided with her.
Jackson and Rowe apparently agreed in 2006 regarding her rights, but the terms have never been disclosed.