Legal Aspects of Custody Battle Between Madonna and Guy Ritchie

For all of its fantastical elements – celebrity parents, a son leaving his mother’s tour, international borders – the recent custody battle between Madonna and Guy Ritchie isn’t uncommon. It’s not unusual for a child to express his preference to live with the noncustodial parent over the current custodial parent.

Recently, the celebrity news sites have been buzzing with the story of Rocco, 15, who is the center of a custody battle between his parents. According to celebrity news sites like E!, People, and TMZ, while visiting his father in London, Rocco made up his mind that he wishes to live with Guy instead of Madonna.

Per media reports, sources close to Rocco say he has grown tired of living with his mother and finds the home life in London with Guy “more stable and loving.”

Can a teen decide with which parent he wants to live?

In most cases, no. That’s certainly true in Washington, where I practice, and it is also true in New York, which has jurisdiction over this particular case. On December 23, 2015, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Deborah Kaplan ruled that Rocco needs to return to New York and remain with his mother until the custody agreement is modified otherwise.

“If he wants to stay with his father, he must return to his mother,” Justice Kaplan reportedly said.

Many states – including Washington and New York – will take into account an older child’s preferences regarding custody, but it is not the ultimate deciding factor. The court must consider the child’s best interests, not just the child’s wishes.

The family has a court date set for February, and Justice Kaplan has suggested that Rocco talk with his mother and reconsider his opinion after giving his living arrangements more thought. Justice Kaplan also stated that Rocco will have his own court-appointed attorney during the custody hearings.

Does Rocco have to go back to New York?

Because a judge has ordered that he return, Rocco should probably comply with the court order and return to New York to await the February court date and go through the proper legal channels to modify any existing custody agreements.

If he refuses to return, things can get trickier. If he were younger, his mother would likely just go pick him up. But because he is a teenager, it is not as simple.

In this situation, you have two parents who both want custody of their son, and a son who has stated a preference. Teenagers ordered to live with a parent they do not want to live with sometimes run away to the other parent, or harbor resentment towards the custodial parent. Madonna will need to work with Rocco to resolve the reasons he favors living with Guy over her.

Parents Have a Duty to Work Together to Effectively Co-Parent

In the vast majority of divorces, I see some degree of animosity between parents. It is part of getting divorced. And according to media reports, there is some animosity between Madonna and Guy, especially concerning their son.

But the parents’ job is to manage their emotions so their feelings don’t spill over and affect the children. It is possible to do this. I see parents do it all the time. And there are even counselors who help parents with this, either individually or by working with them together.

If you are having difficulty co-parenting, it may be helpful to talk to a professional counselor. And if you need help with a child custody case – either now or in the future – and you’re in the Bellevue, Washington, area, give me a call at 425-460-0550.

Molly B. Kenny
Founder and Principal Divorce Attorney
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