Michael Jackson's brood will indeed be growing up Jackson, but not without the occasional visit from a familiar face. Debbie Rowe will officially return to the lives of her two birth children, according to a joint statement between Rowe's and Katherine Jackson's attorneys released early July 30.
Averting a custody battle, the two sides reached an agreement: while Katherine Jackson will remain the guardian of the three children, who have been living in her Encino, Calif., home since Jackson's death, the statement says that Rowe will "exercise" visitation rights for her biological children Prince Michael, 12, and Paris Michael, 11. The mother of Jackson's third child, 7-year-old Prince Michael II (a.k.a. Blanket), is unknown.
"This is the beginning of a new chapter," says Jackson family confidante Brian Oxman, an attorney not involved with the custody agreement. The resolution must be approved by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge; the next hearing is set for Aug. 3. Jackson had stipulated in his will that Katherine Jackson serve as the children's guardian.
"You never know what's going to happen until the deal is done," says Oxman. "But what's being done here is intelligent and is being done with a lot of love and care."
As court approval is pending, the date of Rowe's first visit with the children is unknown. The lawyers' joint statement said that the "timing, frequency and manner" of the visits will be implemented with the children's best interests in mind. This will be determined in large part by a child psychologist chosen and paid for by both Rowe and Katherine Jackson.
Until now, Rowe's role in the children's lives has been by her own admission minimal. In a 2003 documentary, Jackson's ex-wife said, "My kids don't call me Mom, because I don't want them to. They're Michael's children." Filmmaker Bryan Michael Stoller, a friend of Jackson's, recalls visiting Neverland during a Prince Michael birthday celebration. "Michael came in with three boxes, and the first thing he said to Prince was, 'These are from Debbie for your birthday.' It was not like, 'These are from your mother,' " Stoller told TIME. "And of course she wasn't there. This would be a time, if she was any part of their lives, that she would have been there."
So when Rowe hinted that she was going to seek custody of all three of Jackson's children shortly after his sudden passing on June 25, her intentions were viewed with suspicion. While her lawyer clarified public comments Rowe made on the matter saying she was still undecided on the matter some were wary of her motives. Friends at the time said Rowe was acting out of concern for the children in the changed parenting landscape.
"Debbie had a deal with Michael to raise their children," Rowe friend Marc Schaffel told TIME. "She was 100% comfortable with Michael being the primary caregiver, Unfortunately. Michael did not live up to his end of the deal. And the deal has changed now."
The New York Post wrote in mid-July that Rowe had accepted a $4 million payout from the Jackson family to drop her custody pursuit. Rowe's lawyer Eric George vehemently denied the story, and attorneys on both sides of the custody arrangement took pains to point out that money was not part of the latest agreement. "Debbie never sought a dime in these proceedings," George told TIME July 30, declining to elaborate further.
After her nearly three-year marriage to Jackson ended in 1999, Rowe was often viewed as standoffish, and she did little to alter her public image after the singer's death. On July 5, as she left a Chinese restaurant, she snapped menacingly at one of the photographers in the mob that followed her and threw out an obscenity-laced threat. The filmed outburst was played repeatedly, even on evening-news talk shows. But Schaffel attributes it to the stress of the sudden spotlight. "Debbie is very well spoken when cameras aren't shoved in her face and people aren't bombarding her with insulting questions," he says.
As for Rowe's current state of mind following the deal with Katherine Jackson, a Rowe source described her mood as subdued but pleased: "She's not jumping up and down. She's still grieving for Michael. She really did love him."
Family-law attorney Gloria Allred says visitation would have been a very likely outcome if Rowe had continued custody pursuit in the courts. Her re-emergence will be paced appropriately. "They are going to work with the child psychologist and slowly work Debbie back into their lives," says Allred. "That's what they are going for. People are going to work together on this."
"This appears to be a happy ending, or the ending most people would think makes sense," says Allred. "I hope it's going lead to happiness and stability for the children. The less change in their lives right now, the better."