A hearing to consider who will raise Michael Jackson’s three children has been delayed another week, while lawyers work to avoid a court battle over custody.
The delay — the third one this month — was announced Friday afternoon by a Los Angeles County Superior Court spokesman. Debbie Rowe, Jackson’s ex-wife and mother of his two oldest children, has not publicly revealed whether she will challenge Katherine Jackson, his 79-year-old mother, for custody or visitation rights. Katherine Jackson gained temporary guardianship of her son’s children soon after his death last month. The two women have been working to “privately and amicably resolve” the matter since Jackson’s death, a Jackson family lawyer said. Rowe’s lawyer said this week that she was not asking the Jackson family for more money in exchange for dropping a possible custody challenge. A close friend of Rowe said she has been grieving Jackson’s death — grief made more painful by paparazzi hounding her and media reports vilifying Rowe by depicting her as a heartless woman who would trade her kids for cash. “Debbie’s a very caring, wonderful, warm person,” said Marc Schaffel, who met first met Rowe when he worked for Jackson. “She’s a very humble person. People, you know, don’t give her credit that she was a friend of Michael’s for over 30 years.” Jackson and Rowe met when she was working as a nursing assistant in the Beverly Hills office of Jackson’s dermatologist, Dr. Arnold Klein. Rowe said in a 2003 interview, later obtained by ABC News, that she became closer to Jackson in 1996 when she consoled him after his brief marriage to Lisa Marie Presley ended. “He was upset because he really wanted to be a dad,” Rowe said. “I said, ‘So, be a dad.’ He looked at me puzzled. That is when I looked at him and said. ‘Let me do this. I want to do this. You have been so good to me. You are such a great friend. Please let me do this. You need to be a dad, and I want you to be.'” She told the interviewer they married in 1996 only to “prevent some of the taboo of a child out of wedlock.” While Schaffel would not say if their relationship was sexual, he said Rowe had “a true, true love there for Michael.” Their first child, Michael Joseph Jackson Jr., was born in February 1997. A daughter, Paris-Michael Katherine Jackson, was born the next year.
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Details of how the children were conceived and who was the biological father have been closely guarded amid much public speculation. The couple divorced in 1999 with Rowe giving Jackson full custody while she got a $8.5 million settlement, according to court documents. Jackson later agreed to additional support. Rowe gave up parental rights to Jackson in 2001, but she changed her mind more than two years later and sought temporary custody of the children. A California appeals court later ruled her rights were improperly terminated, opening the door to a possible custody battle. Rowe claimed in the 2003 interview that she still had “some influence” over how Jackson raised the children, citing his practice of covering their faces in public as her idea. “That was my request, not his,” she said. “I am the one who’s terrified. I am the one who’s seen the notes that someone’s going to take his children,” she said. She said the children don’t call her “mom” because she did not want them to. “It’s not that they’re not my children, but I had them because I wanted him to be a father,” she said. Rowe, 50, lives on a farm in Palmdale, California, about 60 miles north of Los Angeles, where she breeds horses and dogs. “She spends time with all of her horses and her dogs,” Schaffel said. “If one of her horses is sick, Debbie will stay up all night long caring for them. She’ll sleep on the floor in the barn with a horse if he’s not well. “Debbie doesn’t run out to all of the social events,” he said. “You don’t see her shopping on Rodeo Drive. She’s not hitting the hot spots. She’s not trying to be in the limelight. Debbie is just as happy at home in her very modest, humble, horse ranch.” When Hollywood’s paparazzi surrounded her outside a restaurant near her ranch earlier this month, she showed flashes of anger and frustration. “Are you ready to fight for your kids” a photographer repeatedly shouted. “Are you ready to get your butt kicked” she replied, as she walked through the swarm. Schaffel said Rowe wants privacy and she’s “just trying to go on with her life.” “She doesn’t react well with the paparazzi,” he said. Rowe’s lawyers have stepped up their efforts to bolster her public image by firing off warning letters and demanding retractions when they see reports they think are wrong. One letter sent Tuesday demanded the New York Post retract its report that Rowe had agreed to drop her custody claims for $4 million. “Ms. Rowe has not accepted — and will not accept — any additional financial consideration beyond the spousal support she and Michael Jackson personally agreed to several years ago,” Eric George said in the letter. “Among the several contenders for overzealous and inaccurate sensationalism, the New York Post has now seized top honors,” George wrote to the paper. “It would be easier to identify those few background facts that are accurate than to catalog the number of blatant falsehoods in your story.” “The Post stands by its story,” New York Post Editor-in-Chief Col Allan told CNN. Rowe also filed a lawsuit this week against a woman who claimed in a TV interview to have e-mails from Rowe saying she didn’t really want to raise the children. The suit asked that Rowe be given any money paid to the woman for the interview.