March 4, 2016
Film director at London court hearing as Mr Justice MacDonald says he hopes former husband and wife can negotiate custody agreement.
Madonna has made a legal bid under child abduction laws to force former husband Guy Ritchie to return their teenage son to America, it can be disclosed.
Mr Ritchie, the film director, attended the latest stage of an acrimonious legal battle over the future of 15-year-old Rocco at the High Court in London.
A judge is analysing the family dispute case following similar court hearings in New York earlier this week.
It can be reported for the first time that Madonna, who has been one of the world’s most recognisable recording artists since the 1980s, made an application last year under the Hague Convention – which deals with the abduction of children – for the return of Rocco.
The teenager has been living with his mother in New York since the couple filed for divorce in 2008.
But in December, while travelling through Europe with his mother on the Rebel Heart world tour, he decided to stay with his father – much to the anguish of Madonna.
Mr Justice MacDonald considered preliminary issues at a hearing in the Family Division of the High Court and is due to hear more evidence later this month.
Mr Ritchie, 47, appeared tense as he sat on the front row of the court with his solicitors during the 90-minute hearing.
Dressed in a grey tweed jacket, navy woollen waistcoat and a light blue shirt with a brown tie, he fiddled nervously with a ballpoint pen and drummed his fingers on the desk as barristers made their arguments.
Neither Madonna nor Rocco were in court.
Lawyers told Mr Justice MacDonald that Madonna wanted the teenager to return to live with her in the US and had issued an application under the international legal convention.
However, she has now applied to withdraw that application.
Mr Justice MacDonald said he hoped the pop singer and Mr Ritchie could negotiate an agreement.
He echoed the words of Judge Deborah Kaplan, who is dealing with the dispute in New York, when he said: “It is hoped further discussions between the parties can reach an amicable settlement.”
Mr Justice MacDonald added: “It is highly unfortunate and deeply regrettable as Judge Kaplan said that this family dispute is being dealt with in front of her and in front of me, through the agencies of highly capable lawyers.”
Both Mr Richie, who left court without commenting, and Rocco were said by their legal teams to want the court fights “to stop.”
David Williams QC, for Madonna, said: “It is her desire that this is resolved as quickly as possible.”
All sides initially wanted all reporting of the proceedings banned.
But the judge had to weigh up both the rights of the parties for privacy and rights of the media for freedom of expression.
He said so much was already in the public domain following the New York hearing he would allow additional reporting of his remarks and the fact that all sides now wanted the proceedings to stop.
In New York on Monday the pair were reprimanded by Judge Kaplan for dragging their son through an acrimonious custody battle.
“Frankly, both parties here have chosen to live their lives in a very public way, and may welcome the exposure, but the child has not,” she said.
“I urge them to consider what is the best interests of their son – which may be to remove him from the spotlight.”
Madonna is currently on tour and Mr Ritchie is currently directing Knights of the Round Table: King Arthur, starring Jude Law.
He married second wife Jacqui Ainsley, a model, last summer.
Earlier this week in New York Eleanor Alter, Madonna’s lawyer, accused Mr Ritchie of having “taught his son that court orders and signed statements do not matter”.
But Mr Ritchie’s lawyer, Peter Bronstein, hit back, saying the teenager could not be forced to return to New York.
“Rocco is of an age where he cannot be physically forced to board a plane to come back,” he said. “To make such an order is not the way a child should be forced to live.”
Rocco is currently enrolled at a London school, on the agreement of both Madonna and Mr Ritchie, and the teenager’s lawyer, Ellen Sigal, said that he was thriving at the school.
Following their divorce, the couple agreed to shared custody of their children – Rocco, and David Banda, adopted from Malawi, now aged 10.
The singer has taken to social media as part of her increasingly desperate attempts to win her son over. The singer posted a picture of him on Instagram last week in an angelic, sunlit pose.
A fortnight ago she posted a photo of Rocco as a baby, with the caption, in French, saying: “I miss you.”
Reports of the court proceedings in New York did not specify why Rocco prefers to stay in London.
Asked if she could provide some clarity on the legal situation and what the next move would be in the case, one of Madonna’s representatives said: “Sadly not.”
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