Guy Ritchie and Madonna have reportedly now settled a custody battle involving their 15 year old son Rocco Ritchie. The whole dispute has been played out quite publicly in the international press in recent months.
It is reported that Madonna elected to drop her bid to have Rocco returned to her care, apparently acceding to the child’s wishes.
Although the case appears to have concluded, it has brought into the spotlight the struggles that are faced not only by the parties to such a dispute but also the child. The tremendous pressure that can be placed on a child and the importance of parents conducting themselves appropriately to get the best outcome.
Having been divorced since 2008, Rocco Ritchie has been living with his mother in New York in terms of a Court Order granted in their divorce.. Late last year after visiting his father for the Christmas holidays, Rocco allegedly refused to return to New York and his father failed to ensure his return. This prompted Madonna to go back to Court to secure his return. . Although a Manhattan judge ordered Rocco to return to New York to his mother’s care whilst the parties discussed a possible long term resolution, that Order was not obeyed with Mr Ritchie’s lawyer explaining “He [Rocco] has expressed very clearly that he does not want to return to New York”.
Does the Child’s Opinion Count?
Yes. In Scotland, if a child has views on the matter which the court is being asked to determine then the court should give the child a chance to express those views . The weight to be given to any such views is a matter of discretion for the Court taking into account such factors as the child’s age, maturity and stage of development. It is arguable that views expressed by a child of Rocco age would be given significant weight and therefore could be an important factor to consider for thedecision maker in acase like this
So, should Guy Ritchie have sent Rocco back home, even though the child expressed the view that he does not want to go?
He probably should have. If the matter were being heard in Scotland, it is submitted that Mr Ritchie should have observed the Court Order already in force requiring Rocco to have his permanent place of residence with his mother. No doubt Mr Ritchie thought he was acting his in son’s best interests but the child’s expressed views are not a good reason for ignoring an Order of the court, not unless returning the child would be seriously detrimental to the child’s physical or emotional welfare. There were suggestions that Rocco had become fed up of his mother’s lifestyle and antics but no suggestion that the child was in danger of serious harm. Therefore by not returning Rocco at the end of the holidays, Mr Ritchie opens himself up to an accusation that he was in contempt of court. A finding of the same is a criminal conviction and the penalties are imprisonment and/or a fine, Mr Ritchie should have sought to give effect to his son’s expressed views by going through the proper channels, that is observing the existing Court Order, returning his son to his mother and filing a fresh application to have his son’s permanent place of residence determined of new in light of the change in circumstances. Mr Ritchie would also, in my view, avoid the decision maker forming a bad impression of him at the outset.
What About Madonna’s Behaviour?
It was reported that Madonna responded to the situation by posting evocative photographs of her son with a suitably emotional comment attached on social media. It was also reported that she openly insulted the child’s father on social media and during her live concerts. These cases are undoubtedly emotionally charged but it is imperative that parents desist from behaving in such a fashion. Not only will offensive material be produced to the court to discredit them but reading negative material from one parent to another has an adverse effect on the child who, no matter what, loves both parents. Madonna may have thought that she was posting loving material about her son which would persuade her son to return home and ultimately enhance her position and to make herself look good. In reality what she has probably managed to achieve is to embarrass and further alienate an already sensitive 15 year old boy.
In all cases concerning children their welfare is of paramount importance. Parents should remember to put their children’s interests before their own.
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