When the Material Girl and her filmmaker husband Guy Ritchie broke up, their eldest child was nearing the age where custody matters can become complex for parents.
Everyone understands that teenagers, craving independence and trying to assert their own control over a complex world, are not like younger children.
When you add a divorce into their experience, the opportunities for playing their parents off on one another multiply dramatically.
In the case of Madonna and Ritchie, by the time their son Rocco was a teenager, his assertions of self prompted a transatlantic custody fight, demands for kidnapping charges in a British court, and hearings held via Skype as the celebrity parents literally phoned it in from remote locales.
In the end, it appears that Rocco got an arrangement he could live with, but it wasn’t without pain for his parents.
Madonna met her future husband at a party hosted by Sting and his wife Trudie Styler back in 1998.
Ritchie was then working on his first movie, which Styler was an investor in, and wasn’t yet any kind of household name.
Still, he and the pop icon hit it off, and were dating by the time his acclaimed and successful Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels made its way to theaters around the world.
The relationship seems to have been equally successful, with Madonna giving birth to Rocco in August of 2000, just a month before Ritchie’s second film, Snatch, cemented his reputation as an edgy and entertaining director of crime and heist films.
At the end of the year, celebrities from around the world coalesced at Scotland’s Skibo Castle for a wedding that was private, but not a secret.
Gossip rag reporters camped out in view of nearby Inverness Airport to watch the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Rupert Everett, Donatella Versace, Stella McCartney, and other famous faces arrive in the cold to make the trek to the venue, but there were no cameras allowed inside.
Reportedly, Rocco was christened in a ceremony just before his parents took their vows, kicking off a marriage that started well but didn’t stand the test of time.
Ritchie has spoken candidly in the years since their divorce about his frustration that they never quite managed to achieve a normal marriage.
Both were certainly busy with their careers, living in England where Ritchie continued making movies and Madonna continued making music.
She also branched out into children’s books, penning The English Roses in 2003 and eventually expanding the brand, which included several sequels, to include home decor, dolls, and more.
This must have been a nice diversion for Madonna’s daughter Lourdes, born during an earlier relationship with Cuban actor and fitness instructor Carlos Leon.
During this period, Madonna became fascinated with the nation of Malawi, and during her 2006 Confessions Tour, she joined with the group Raising Malawi to help fund an orphanage there.
While visiting the nation, she decided to adopt a child, David Banda, which prompted criticism from nearly all corners and for a variety of reasons.
First, it seems that the country fast-tracked her adoption petition despite laws there that require a would-be parent to live in the country for one year.
The second round of condemnations came when it was revealed that David wasn’t actually an orphan.
His father reportedly left his son at the orphanage when the boy’s mother unexpectedly died and he felt he couldn’t properly provide for the boy, and it appears that the Malawi government allowed the adoption without obtaining consent from the father, prompting something of a firestorm in the press.
Still, the adoption was ultimately finalized in 2008, and David has become a public figure in his own right thanks to his mother’s enduring fascination with the limelight.
According to Ritchie’s later accounts, this era of Madonna’s activism created a rift in the marriage that wouldn’t heal.
He felt that his wife was becoming obsessed with using her celebrity to save the world, saying that she wanted to act as “some kind of global soothsayer.”
He claims to have wanted a typical marriage, but was stymied both by Madonna’s need for validation and the fawning entourage that accompanied her everywhere, providing it for her in ways he couldn’t.
He’s complained to friends about Madonna’s hangers-on, who all “worshipped at the altar of Madonna.”
While he wanted, as much as possible, an ordinary life for himself, his wife, and their children, it was simply impossible to get past Madonna’s focus on her self-created role as ambassador for a better world.
After eight years of marriage, the relationship was tense, tightly wound, and the couple no longer shared laughs.
A preliminary divorce settlement was issued by a London court in November 2008, with the couple hammering out the details of a divorce settlement in the weeks to come.
Ritchie cashed out handsomely, walking away with a $92 million payout and a country home the pair owned in Western England.
He and Madonna agreed to a joint custody arrangement with sons Rocco and David, who were then 8 and 3, and Lourdes returned to New York City with her mom.
If things weren’t great for the family, they seemed to have been okay until 2015, when 15-year-old Rocco was visiting his dad in London and refused to get on a plane to go home to his mother.
Madonna went ballistic, demanding in December that a court in New York order Rocco home, but the boy continued to resist.
Madonna then asked for a contempt order from the New York judge against her ex-husband and asked that a kidnapping warrant be drawn against him in London.
Both courts refused those asks, and in a spring 2016 hearing, Rocco’s court-appointed lawyer was present to advocate for his interests.
The agreement that the parties ultimately reached allowed Rocco to remain in London, living with his father, and while Madonna may not have been overjoyed at the outcome, it’s worth considering that more recently, Rocco has been spotted coming and going from her Upper East Side home, often with a girlfriend.
A lot of divorced parents will recognize aspects of this story, and hopefully the resolution, where a teenager given some control over events is able to make peace with both parents, will also be familiar.
Divorcing with children is an enormously stressful experience for the whole family, and one that continues to change over the years as the children age.
Experienced lawyers can make a big difference in how you react to the situation, both at the time of the divorce and later, as your family’s needs change.
If your marriage in Brooklyn is ending, call the experienced divorce attorneys at Zelenitz, Shapiro & D’Agostino today at 718-725-9601 for a free consultation with an experienced Brooklyn divorce and child custody lawyer.