EXCLUSIVE: DEBBIE TO DROP CUSTODY CLAIM BUT DEMANDS...
Michael Jackson's mother and ex-wife have struck a secret deal to exclude his domineering father Joe from any part in the upbringing of the star's three children.
Katherine Jackson and Debbie Rowe, mum of Jacko's two eldest children, Prince Michael and Paris, had been at loggerheads over custody of the kids, with each wanting to bring them up.
But they are close to putting aside their differences to stop Joe Jackson having any involvement in the children's upbringing.
Michael accused his father of beating him as a boy and Joe, who is estranged from Katherine, is blamed by many fans for the singer's problems. Joe, 80, has insisted he and Katherine, 79, should have joint custody of Prince Michael, 12, Paris, 11, and Prince Michael II, seven, known as Blanket. Now sources say Debbie and Katherine, who were set to fight for custody in court, are close to a deal in which Katherine brings the children up, while Debbie has regular access.
Debbie, 50, and Katherine have apparently been united in fury at comments by Joe - who made millions out of his son's success - about Paris and Blanket's potential as performers.
A custody hearing scheduled for tomorrow has been deferred until July 20 to allow the women to iron out a deal for Katherine to keep the children at the Jackson family compound in Encino, California, with regular visits from Debbie.
The children are being encouraged to talk about their dad as much as possible as part of their grieving process. And Katherine is gently introducing them to a more normal routine than they would have been used to.
When Jackson was alive he insisted they wear masks in public, but they were uncovered at the memorial for the singer on Tuesday. Katherine has also been buying them ordinary supermarket toys rather than the handpicked luxury items their father gave them - then often threw away, paranoid about germs and bugs.
Despite being separated from Katherine for five years and living in Las Vegas, Joe claims they should have joint permanent custody of the children. He said: "We should make them happy, feed 'em like they're supposed to be fed and let them get plenty of sleep and grow up to be strong Jacksons."
In his will - in which there was no reference to Joe - Michael left instructions that Katherine should raise the children. He stipulated that his old friend, soul legend Diana Ross, should become their guardian if Katherine died.
Debbie gave up her custody rights to Prince Michael and Paris in 1999. But last weekend she declared: "I want them back."
It is understood her primary concern is to prevent Joe having any role at all in bringing them up. A source close to Debbie's attorney said: "The last thing she wanted was for those kids to be looked after by Joe and go through what Michael went through."
Joe has already revealed he has big dreams for Blanket, saying: "I keep looking at Paris and she wants to do something... and Blanket, he can really dance."
Joe has always denied beating either Michael or his sisters and brothers.