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(photo credit: Courtesy)
Experts in family law are now debating whether Michael Jackson's two oldest children will be returned to the custody of Deborah Jeanne Rowe, their Jewish mother.
The children are Prince Michael I, who is 12, and Paris Michael Katherine, 11, who, by virtue of having a Jewish mother, are also considered Jewish.
A third child, Prince Michael II, was born of a surrogate mother, whose identity has not been revealed.
After divorcing Lisa Marie Presley, Jackson married Rowe, his former dermatologist nurse, in 1996, when she was six months pregnant.
The couple divorced in 1999 and Rowe signed a contract waiving her parental rights. She later contested the contract, among other arguments expressing her fears that the children were exposed to the teachings of the Nation of Islam.
Her fears were based on the fact that Jackson's security was being handled by the Nation of Islam, headed by Louis Farrakhan, and that Jermaine Jackson, Michael's brother, as well as the children's Rwandan nanny, were both Nation of Islam members.
An appeals court ruled in her favor in 2006, but ultimately the custody battle was settled out of court.
If Jackson paid Rowe for signing away her rights to the two children, UCLA law professor Grace Ganz Blumberg told the Los Angeles Times, "You can't buy and sell kids, and that is what would have been going on here. Jackson would have been buying the kids from her.
"Jackson wanted to be the exclusive parent, but kids need a backup," Blumberg added. "People die, so what he did was leave his kids without a parent."
Legal authorities in general agreed that under California law Rowe would be likely to regain custody, even if Jackson had designated another guardian in his will.
Iris Finsilver, Rowe's attorney, who previously confirmed that her client was Jewish, told The Associated Press she was certain Rowe would seek custody of the two children.
At the time that Rowe's Jewishness was first made public, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, at that time a close friend of Jackson, expressed his astonishment.
"It seems incredible to me that Michael Jackson would not have told me that Prince and Paris are Jewish, unless he did not know," Boteach said. "It's possible that Michael never knew that Debbie Rowe is Jewish. I don't know that she is a committed Jew, that would have evidenced itself in any particular way. But since the children are Jewish, they should be raised Jewish."