Eight years ago, Debbie Rowe, the mother of Michael Jackson's two older children, told a Los Angeles court she wanted to give them up.
"These are his children . . . ," she testified. "I had the children for him. They wouldn't be on this planet if it wasn't for my love for him. I did it for him to become a father, not for me to become a mother. You earn the title 'parent.' I have done absolutely nothing to earn that title."
For his part, Jackson seemed to consider Rowe, whom he married in 1996, little more than a baby machine. When their daughter, Paris Michael Katherine, now 11, was born, he snatched her and "just went home with her with all the placenta all over her," leaving Rowe behind in the hospital, Jackson told ABC News in 2003.
When their son, Prince Michael Jr., now 12, told the interviewer, "I haven't got a mother," Jackson assented: "That's right." Jackson said the children would not benefit from contact with Rowe because "she can't handle it."
Now, however, the 50-year-old Rowe, who lives on a horse farm in Palmdale, needs to decide if she feels the same way. Rowe is considering whether to challenge Katherine Jackson, the late pop icon's mother, for custody. Katherine Jackson has her son's three children (the youngest, 7-year-old Prince Michael II, was borne by an unidentified surrogate) and is seeking permanent custody.
Legal experts have said that Rowe has a strong claim to the older children as their biological mother, and if she attempted to win custody now, Jackson's family would have to convince a judge that it would not be in the children's best interest to live with her.
But Rowe has yet to signal her intentions. Eric George, her lawyer, said he will be at a custody hearing Monday to represent her, but did not know whether she would ask for custody or to continue to have visitation rights.
When reports surfaced several years ago that Katherine Jackson might adopt the children, Rowe declared she would "never consent to such a thing" and was "certain" Jackson's parents "would not properly care for the children."
Court records and interviews paint Rowe as vulnerable, an animal-lover who doted lavishly on her horses, dogs and birds as though they were her children and vacillated in her desires to see the girl and boy she bore with Jackson. She also appeared to love Jackson, even though their marriage was established for the sole purpose of bearing him children.
Jackson rewarded Rowe with large sums of money for forsaking the children, and money appeared to be a concern when she later tried to obtain custody of them after the singer was accused of child molestation in 2003.
Rowe met Jackson while working in the office of Dr. Arnold Klein, his Beverly Hills' dermatologist. Jackson wanted her to have children for him.
"If someone needs something, I'm there, you know," Rowe said in a televised interview in 2005.
Rowe agreed in 1999 to give Jackson sole custody of the children. The couple's divorce was finalized in April 2000, and she agreed to an $8.5-million settlement, according to court records. She stopped visiting the children six months later because it "was not working out for various reasons," according to an appeals court ruling.
Rowe complained in court records that she had to go through lawyers to send birthday balloons to her children, travel long distances to see them and had trouble getting makeup visits if she missed a scheduled appointment because of an illness.
She also said she was able to see the children only in hotel rooms surrounded by Jackson's representatives.
Despite those complaints, she filed a petition in 2001 to give up her parental rights, asserting that it was in the children's best interest for her to be removed from their lives.
In a hearing before a private judge who was overseeing the matter, she said she was "an intrusion" on the children, who "are going to have enough intrusions as it is."
"I am absolutely around if Michael ever needs me, if the children need me for a liver, a kidney, a hello, whatever," she said.
Rowe told the court she had not seen or communicated with the children in about a year and had no desire to even send them a card.
Asked what would happen to the children if Jackson died, Rowe said: "I am sure he has a wonderful person in mind to take care of them." (A 2002 will left by Jackson said the children should go to singer Diana Ross if his mother could not care for them.)
Rowe, at the time, said she would not want the children back if Jackson died.
"Not that I don't love them. I do. I think they are adorable. They're his kids. They're his kids. They are not my kids."
Rowe later decided to contest her waiver of parental rights, citing the child molestation charges against Jackson as well as his association with the Nation of Islam, "whose members Deborah believed 'do not like Jews,' " an appeals court quoted her as saying.