The recent passing of icon Michael Jackson and the resulting media coverage makes it clear that a child custody battle will likely loom for the children he leaves behind. Unfortunately, this will not be a simple custody battle. No, this will be quite complicated.
Under normal circumstances, the surving parent would be the parent that would, by default, be the custodian of any minor children. In this case, news reports indicate that the mother of the two oldest children had terminated her rights to the children after birth. Then, according to reports, later petitioned the courts (during Jackson's criminal trial for molestation) to have her rights re-instated. Apparently, the court did re-instate her parental rights, according to sources. If so, it seems that she has considerable legal leverage when it comes to custody of these children. However, Jackson's family seems poised to fight for custody rights of the minor children based on their long standing close relationship to them. An additional complicating factor is the news report that Jackson himself may have left the children's long term nanny as guardian in his Last Will and Testament. Of course, his will, in and of itself, will not create a binding precedence before the court. It may be a factor to be considered, however, the court's are charged with doing what is in the children's best interest.
It should not be forgotten that any party wanting to fight for custody before the court must have some legal standing. Since I am not a California attorney, I will venture to guess how the court's there will handle this. It is, however, a factor that will likely come into play.
Next, one news report today indicates that the biological mother of the two oldest children is stating that Jackson did not father the children. This brings to mind several questions. If Jackson was truly not the biological father of these children, why did she purportedly terminate her parental rights? Money, perhaps? Was there no DNA testing in that termination proceeding? Perhaps not since it was an uncontested proceeding. However, I have to think that the judge would have been somewhat skeptical of the situation and would have had the ability to require that a DNA test be performed before the termination occured. Why didn't he/she? Why was a termination allowed if there was no mother standing in her shoes to replace her? The result was the court took two kids who had two parents and reduced that to one parent. Why? What was the compelling reason? Celebrity benefits? Then, upon asking the court for re-instatement, why wasn't the parentage issue raised? Why weren't DNA tests performed then? If her rights were re-instated, and DNA shows he was not the biological father, the court is likely required to return the children to their biological mother. But what relationship can exist then? What relationship should exist? If this mother gave up (sold) her parental rights to Jackson, and if she has not been actively involved in their lives, is she fit to now be a parent? I am sure those are the types of issues that will be raised by the Jackson family in the days and months to come.
Finally, the youngest child may be the wildcard in all of this. Come reports indicate that this was a surrogate pregnancy situation leaving the birth mother with no parental rights. This is the step-sibling to the older two. Courts typically like to keep all of sibilings together if at all possible. This may have a big impact on what happens moving forward. What if there is a court determination that the two oldest children are not Jackson's, but the youngest child is. As a result, the court would likely have to award the biological mother, if fit and her parental rights are intact, custody of the two oldest. However, she may not have any standing to take custody of the youngest child. If she is not fit, it seems to be clear that Jackson family would have an argument for all three. However, if the oldest two are not Jackson's, that means that there is a biological father out there who has parental rights to these children (assuming this is not a sperm bank situation). If Jackson has any fortune, or any insurance money set aside for the children, the ultimate custodian of the children may find himself/herself considerably weathier now. Onesad part of this is that the possible fortune involved will create a number of wolves standing ready to fight for these children. Some with good and wholesome intentions and some not so much.
I truly feel for these kids. Regardless of the impending legal mess, thes kids have lost the most important figure in their life. No legal title will change who they have known as daddy to this point in their lives. I hope that this mess can be resolved quickly and quitely so that these kids can begin to have some normal semblance of a life.