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Debbie Rowe, Michael Jackson's Ex, to Get Kids?

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By Javier Lavagnino, Esq. on June 26, 2009 1:20 PM

Law on Termination of Parental Rights May Give Her Chance

Following the tragic news of Michael Jackson's death yesterday, many questions have been asked relating to the circumstances surrounding his untimely passing. However, an article out today deals with a question that, from the perspective of a family dealing with unforeseen tragedy, is probably of far more importance and immediacy. That is, what's going to happen to Michael Jackson's children, Paris, Prince Michael, and Prince Michael II (aka Blanket)?

The story suggested that although in the short term they will probably be staying with Michael Jackson's mom, according to NBC News' legal analyst Dan Abrams, "a custody battle may be on the horizon. The most likely claimant would be Debbie Rowe, Jackson's second wife and the biological mother of Prince Michael and Paris; Blanket was born of an unidentified surrogate mother in Europe." Abrams further suggests that even the existence of a will by Jackson dealing with the custody issue might not be enough if Rowe steps in. And indeed, KTLA reports that Debbie Rowe is planning on doing just that, despite reports that she has had "very limited" contact with her children and that she even tried to give up all her parental rights to her two children back when MJ and Rowe divorced in 1999.

Wait, how can this be? Well, the KTLA story explains that California laws specifically prohibit a parent from "giving up" their parental rights without an actual investigation by the state's Department of Children and Family services into her fitness as a parent. California law provides grounds for termination of a parent's rights that are actually fairly extreme. Examples include the abuse or neglect of a child or a parent's felony conviction or incarceration, although the law does include a "best interests of the child" sort of catchall ground.

Why does the law limit terminating rights in that way? Well, taking a step back from the Michael Jackson case, termination of parental rights is a pretty extreme step, perhaps particularly so in the context of a divorce. Although divorces regularly include determinations of child custody, even granting sole custody doesn't involve a termination of parental rights.

Instead, the law generally favors protecting the rights and welfare of children vis-a-vis their parents. In other words, although it would be possible for the law to respect a parent's wish to give up their parental rights simply by declaration, the law doesn't really want to encourage that kind of behavior. Instead it looks at the issue from the perspective of a child asking whether its in their best interests for the parent to surrender their rights.

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