Jackson's Mother and Ex-Wife Plot Secret Custody Deal

Working to give Katherine custody, Rowe increased visitation but snub Joe.

July 10, 2009, 6:05 PM

July 13, 2009— -- Michael Jackson's mother and ex-wife are working out a deal behind closed doors that would allow them to avoid a custody battle and guarantee that the pop star's father could never get custody of the singer's three children.

Sources told ABC News.com that Debbie Rowe, the former Mrs. Jackson and mother of his two oldest children, is willing to forego a fight for the children if their grandmother, Katherine Jackson, allows her more time to visit with the kids, and guarantees that their grandfather, Joe Jackson, whom Michael accused of abuse, could never be named a guardian.

A custody hearing scheduled for today has been postponed until July 20.

"We are pleased that the child custody hearing has been continued over until July 20 to further our progress and allow us to privately and amicably resolve this most important matter in a dignified manner for the benefit of the children first and all involved," Katherine Jackson's lawyer, L. Londell McMillan, said in a statement to The Associated Press.

In his last will, written in 2002 and filed in court the week after his June 25 death, Michael Jackson left custody of his three children, aged 7, 11 and 12, to their grandmother, 79.

In the immediate aftermath of Jackson's death, a probate court awarded temporary custody of the children to Katherine Jackson, but speculation -- fueled by Rowe's own comments -- suggested that Rowe might push to get custody of the kids.

Rowe, who, for a decade has been absent from the lives of the children she carried, told a Los Angeles television station four days after Jackson died that she wanted custody, saying: "I want my children."

Her lawyer Eric George tried to temper those comments, maintaining for weeks that "Debbie has not reached a final decision on the pending custody proceeding."

Another source close to Rowe previously told ABCNews.com that Rowe was considering seeking custody because she believed Katherine Jackson was too old to care for the children and because she did not want them near Joe Jackson.

"There is concern about Joe Jackson being around the kids," the source said.

There is also speculation that any deal Rowe and Katherine Jackson work out could potentially come with money for Rowe.

Court records indicate that Rowe has been compensated in the past for relinquishing guardianship.

Transcripts of a 2005 custody hearing, obtained by the Web site TMZ, spell out what has long been assumed: Rowe received a hefty settlement to stay out of the children's lives when the couple divorced in 1999.

Debbie Rowe's Custody Deal With Michael Jackson

In the 2005 hearing, Jackson's lawyer Thomas Hall told Judge Stephen Lachs that Rowe received up to $5 million up front, a mansion and an additional $900,000 for several years.

"Mr. Jackson was under an agreement with petitioner [Rowe] here, which he was to pay her -- did pay her about $4 [million] or $5 million up front, gave her a mansion in Beverly Hills, and then was to pay $900,000 a year for a number of years if she abided by agreement terms," Hall told the court.

Rowe's push to keep Joe Jackson out of the children's lives likely has to do with the contentious relationship the stage father and founder of the Jackson 5 had with Michael. In a 2003 documentary with Martin Bashir, Jackson said his father would beat with whatever he could get his hands on: "Ironing cords, whatever's around . . . throw you up against the wall, hard as he could."

Although Joe and Katherine Jackson remain married they, they live in different states and lead separate lives. Joe lives in Las Vegas and Katherine lives at the family compound in Encino, Calif.

Michael Jackson also has a third child, 7-year-old son Prince Michael II, better known as Blanket, who was born to an unknown surrogate.

Negotiations are still continuing and no custody agreement has been reached yet. If the secret deal, however, falls through, lawyers said a custody battle in court could be long and nasty.

Despite her self-imposed estrangement, and Jackson wanting his mother to have custody, legal experts said Rowe -- as the children's mother -- had a strong claim to custody.

"As a general rule, a mother would have an automatic right to custody over anyone else unless there is finding that it's detrimental to the children if they're with mom," said Ronald W. Anteau, a family lawyer in California not associated with the Jackson case.

Meanwhile, ABCNews.com has learned that representatives of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services recently interviewed the children at the Encino home of Katherine Jackson.

Sources described the interview as a routine visit.

"This isn't that unusual," said Laurie Levenson, a professor of family law at Loyola University. "It might have been a request by the court. We shouldn't read too much into it."

Child welfare authorities interviewed the children once before, following accusations in 2003 that Michael Jackson has molested an unrelated adolescent boy.

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