It's easy to forget that, among all the other things that Michael Jackson was, he was also a single father. Before his death, the King of Pop was thought to have sole custody of his three children. Amid speculation about the underlying cause of Jackson's cardiac arrest and debate over how the singer will be remembered, another big question has emerged: Who will take care of the kids?
Two of Jackson's children -- 12-year-old Michael Joseph Jackson Jr. (known as "Prince") and 11-year-old Paris Michael Katherine Jackson -- are the products of his short-lived marriage to nurse Debbie Rowe, which ended in 1999. The Telegraph reports that Rowe "relinquished all parental rights after a long legal battle." But a CBS News article directly contradicts this statement, claiming that, "In 2005, Rowe battled Jackson over custody and eventually was allowed shared custody of the children." Jackson's youngest child, Prince Michael II (known in the media as "Blanket," after the pop star's notorious window-dangling debacle), was born in 2002. In an interview, Jackson said that Blanket was born to a surrogate mother he had never met, using "my own sperm cells."
Interviews with Jackson's staff seem to reveal two realistic possibilities for the children. Speaking to Radaronline last night, the family's lawyer, Brian Oxman, said, "Probably [the children's grandmother] Mrs. Jackson will take care of them, she loves them dearly." In the meantime, the kids are said to be in the care of a nanny. But the Daily Mail, in a piece that puzzles over Jackson's troubled finances, reports that "a source close to his family said his ex-wife Debbie Rowe is expected to receive initial custody while long-term arrangements are sorted out."
No matter who finally obtains custody, lawyers predict that the Jackson family is in for a rough few months in court. In an interview with CBS "Early Show" co-anchor Harry Smith this morning, Oxman said, "I suspect that the death of Michael Jackson is only the beginning of the legal battles over not only his property, but also his children." And while the King of Pop's will -- which has not yet been made public -- is expected to specify Jackson's choice of guardian, Gloria Allred, one of Jackson's most public foes, told the N.Y. Daily News, "If the mother did not relinquish her parental rights, she can seek custody ... If he indicated in his will the person whom he wishes to serve as guardian, then the court will give great weight to his preference." But, says Allred, a judge may also decide to discount Jackson's will and "do what the court believes is in the children's best interest."
Whatever happens to Prince, Paris and Blanket, one thing is sure: The Jackson children will be in for quite an adjustment. According to the Daily News, the trio is used to a globetrotting lifestyle and "a world in which new toys arrived as if by magic every day, and included midnight shopping sprees and bleary-eyed visits to museums and amusement parks after dark." For now, here's hoping that the Jackson family -- and the media -- will allow these newly fatherless kids to mourn in peace.