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Jackson's ex-wife wins round in custody fight

Michael Jackson’s ex-wife, Deborah Rowe, won a round in her battle over their two children, with an appeals court ruling that her parental rights were not properly relinquished under the law.The California 2nd District Court of Appeal ruling Wednesday set the stage for further litigation between the former couple.The pop star, who has been living out of the country since his acquittal on molesta
/ Source: The Associated Press

Michael Jackson’s ex-wife, Deborah Rowe, won a round in her battle over their two children, with an appeals court ruling that her parental rights were not properly relinquished under the law.

The California 2nd District Court of Appeal ruling Wednesday set the stage for further litigation between the former couple.

The pop star, who has been living out of the country since his acquittal on molestation charges last June, could further appeal the ruling. He is reportedly traveling with his children in Italy.

Jackson had no immediate comment on the ruling, publicist Raymone K. Bain said Thursday.

Jackson and Rowe married in November 1996 and filed for divorce in October 1999 after the births of son Prince Michael and a daughter, Paris. Jackson also has a son whose mother hasn’t been identified.

While acknowledging Rowe initiated the proceeding to give up her parental rights in 2001 and made clear she wanted Jackson to have sole custody, the appellate court said the judge in the matter did not handle it properly.

The retired judge, Steven M. Lachs, acknowledged in 2004 that he failed to have state officials do an independent investigation into what was in the best interests of the children.

Lachs voided his own ruling even though he had found in 2001 that the arrangement was in the best interests of Paris and Prince Michael.

Jackson subsequently filed to prevent the judge from voiding his earlier ruling.

“A court cannot enter a judgment terminating parental rights based solely upon the parties’ stipulation that the child’s mother or father relinquishes those rights,” the appeals court said.

The 18-page ruling quoted from Rowe’s original motion in October 2001.

“Michael has been a wonderful father to the children and I do not wish to share parenting responsibilities with Michael because he is doing so well without me,” she said. “I want to forever give up my any and all rights pertaining to the children because I believe that by doing so, it is in the children’s best interests.”

When a hearing was held, Rowe had not seen the children in more than a year, the documents said, and she reiterated that she was giving up all rights to them.

Jackson’s lawyer warned her at the hearing that if she changed her mind because of something she read that made her think Jackson was a bad father, she probably would have no recourse. She clung to her position.

“I don’t think he’s capable of being a bad father,” she said, according to the hearing transcript quoted in the ruling. “He loves his children too much.”

A change of heart

But Rowe did change her mind two years later and sought temporary custody. Her stated reasons were publicity surrounding Jackson’s prosecution on child molestation charges and press reports that he was associating with the Nation of Islam “whose members Deborah believed do ‘not like Jews.”’

“Because she is Jewish, Deborah feared the children might be mistreated if Michael continued his association with the Nation of Islam,” the ruling noted.

At the hearing on Jackson’s motion opposing her move to regain parental rights, Lachs was quoted as saying, “It was an arranged deal from the beginning. ... This was not mom and dad saying, ‘Hey, let’s have a family that we’re going to raise.”’

But the judge said the couple clearly agreed Jackson would raise the children.

Lawyers for Jackson and Rowe did not immediately return calls for comment Thursday.

Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson said in an interview that the ruling puts Rowe back in the position she was in before she relinquished her parental rights. If the case returns to court, she said, state agencies would probably be asked to evaluate the situation.

“No court has ever really figured out what would be best for these kids,” she said.

Rowe told the syndicated TV show “The Insider,” “I am thrilled with today’s ruling.”