The Material Girl made her name through rebellion—and now the shoe is on the other foot, with her son Rocco rebelling against her. As Madonna engages in a custody battle with ex-husband Guy Ritchie, Rocco is making it abundantly clear he wants to live with his dad.
Papa don’t preach
Fifteen-year-old Rocco is in London with his father and is refusing to come back home to Madge in New York City. Ritchie maintains that Rocco doesn’t want to live with Madonna and filed papers in London for a change of custody. The London court rejected Ritchie’s petition, ruling that since a New York court decided the current custody arrangement, that court has jurisdiction.
Madonna, meanwhile, has asked the New York court to return her son to her, and a hearing is scheduled for February 3. The court has ordered Rocco to appear at that hearing, so if he wants to return to live with his father, he must first come to court in New York. Madonna has won this round, but her victory may be short-lived.
The child has a say…
Rocco is not the first teenager to disagree with a custody plan. It’s common for teens to have a strong opinion about which parent they live with after a divorce. In fact, most kids who are elementary school aged or older probably have an opinion when it comes to residential custody.
Because children have a stake in custody cases and because what they want does and should matter, it is common for the court to appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL; also known as a law guardian), an attorney who represents the child’s interests in the case. This attorney can take two different approaches to the case. Sometimes the GAL makes a decision about what is best for the child and presents an argument or report to the court in that vein. And sometimes the GAL does what the child specifically requests; in Rocco’s case, for instance, the GAL might ask that the teen be allowed to live with his father.
In some custody cases, children testify or speak to the judge privately in chambers about what they want. What a child thinks always matters to the court, but the older the child is, the more important that opinion becomes. Judges generally begin to take a child’s opinion into account around the age of 12, but this varies by state, court, and judge.
It also has to do with the child’s maturity and intelligence. The older the child is, the more weight the opinion has, so a judge is more likely to do what a seventeen-year-old asks than a thirteen-year-old. The reasons behind the request matter as well. A child who feels unsafe or is abused will likely get what he is asking for, while a child who doesn’t like having to do routine household chores won’t be taken as seriously.
…but “best interest” takes precedence
A decision about custody is never based solely the child’s opinion. In Madonna’s case, Rocco may testify or speak to the judge, but both Madonna and her ex will likely mount cases as to why the teen should live with them. It has been reported that Rocco left Madonna’s recent world tour to stay with his father because she took his phone away in an effort to get him to focus on his schoolwork. If that’s true, Madonna’s case is strengthened, since avoiding reasonable parental discipline is not generally a good reason for a change in custody.
At stake will be what is in Rocco’s best interest, and that determination will encompass a wide range of things, including home life (Madonna’s tour schedule will matter), parenting styles, schooling, siblings, parents’ substance abuse, finances, and each parent’s willingness to foster a relationship with the other.
It’s almost certain Rocco will have a say in his living arrangements, but how much will be up to the judge.