As a cultural icon, Madonna needs no introduction, and her ex-husband, British filmmaker Guy Ritchie, has also thrived in the spotlight for long enough that most are likely familiar with both his work and his marriage and divorce from the music legend.
What has been fascinating about their breakup, and the part that may resonate with many divorced New York parents, is how deeply felt and, at times, strangely argued their fight over custody of their son Rocco, 16, has been.
Bear in mind, Madonna and Ritchie formally divorced in 2008, and as recently as last year, they were still involved in heated proceedings over where the boy would live, when he would visit the other parent, and, at times, whether kidnapping charges should be filed in the custody case (they were not).
Madonna and Ritchie first met back in 1998 at a party hosted by Sting and his wife Trudie Styler.
Ritchie was working on his first movie, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, at the time, and later in the year it was released to considerable success.
He and Madonna dated for a couple of years, with their son Rocco born in August of 2000. A month later, Ritchie’s second film, Snatch, was released to rave reviews and a healthy box office take.
Things were going quite well in both their lives, and at the end of 2000, the couple hosted a lavish – though, from the press’s perspective, quite private – wedding for themselves at Skibo Castle in the Scottish Highlands.
It was rumored to be a celebrity-rich event, with Gwyneth Paltrow, Stella McCartney, Donatella Versace, Sting, Rupert Everett in attendance, but reporters were forced to camp out at Inverness Airport to catch a glimpse of the stars arriving. Rocco was christened in a ceremony before the wedding.
Then, they apparently tried to be your standard, run of the mill celebrity married couple, balancing work and family from their home in England.
He kept making movies – one of which she starred in, disastrously from a commercial standpoint – and she continued to make music and wrote children’s books under The English Roses line. She eventually expanded that to include dolls and home decor.
Rocco was not the only child in the household.
Madonna’s eldest daughter, Lourdes, was born during a prior relationship with actor and former fitness instructor Carlos Leon, and of course there was the 2006 adoption of David, an orphan in Malawi who turned out not to be an orphan, and whose adoption was, at best, controversial.
Ritchie has complained broadly in the press of the circumstances of their union, his wife’s obsession with her own celebrity, and her desire to use her outsized microphone to save the world.
Her wish to act as “some kind of global soothsayer,” as he was reported to have said in an article in England’s Daily Mirror, was a permanent obstacle to his desire to have a normal marriage with a recognizable husband-and-wife dynamic.
He blamed her ever-present entourage and advisors for making it impossible for them to aspire to an ordinary marriage, telling friends that the hangers-on in her life “worshipped at the altar of Madonna.”
He didn’t just want normalcy for himself, but for their children, as well.
He said that trying to do ordinary, day-to-day things as Mr. Madonna was impossible, and that getting Madonna herself to take up average endeavors was out of the question.
In his view, Madonna was obsessed with healing the world, and while he went along with it for a while, over time, the couple stopped laughing, and Madonna gradually grew angrier and more tightly focused on the trappings of celebrity.
In November 2008, a judge in London issued a preliminary divorce order for the pair while they negotiated the details of a final settlement.
The financial portion ended up being huge, with a $92 million payout to Ritchie that included a country home they owned in western England.
At the time, the settlement was one of the largest in celebrity divorce history, coming in just behind the $150 million settlements that ended the marriages of Michael Jordan and Neil Diamond and Steven Spielberg’s $100 million escape from his marriage to Amy Irving.
The couple agreed to share custody of the children Rocco and David, then 8 and 3, while Lourdes moved with her mom back to New York.
As any parent can attest to, teenagers are not the same as small children, and as Rocco grew up, he began making decisions that created intense conflict for his high-achieving parents.
In 2015, while staying with his dad, he refused to get on a plane to New York to visit his mother, prompting a series of extraordinary courtroom interactions handled by telephone and videoconference to accommodate the global span of the Madonna-Ritchie family.
In December, Manhattan Judge Deborah Kaplan issued an order, at Madonna’s request, that Rocco return to New York. The boy did not comply, and by the spring of 2016, more hearings were held.
This time, Rocco had his own court-appointed attorney to give voice to the 15-year-old’s wants, and the lawyer told the court that the order, his parents’ constant fighting, and the uncertainty about his future were stressing him out.
To that end, it turns out that Madonna had asked for both a contempt ruling against her ex-husband in Manhattan and a kidnapping warrant against him in London for not returning the boy per the December order.
Judges in both jurisdictions scoffed at the request, and eventually, the parties were able to reach an agreement that seems to have taken some of the pressure off of Madonna’s troubled relationship with her son.
Rocco was allowed to remain in London with his dad, but has more recently been spotted visiting New York, sometimes with a girlfriend, and staying with his mom and siblings in her Upper East Side home.
If it’s not the happiest ending in a custody dispute, it seems happy enough.
Rocco has begun a career in modeling and acting, his mother and siblings in the US seem to be doing well, and his father has remarried and, with his new wife, given him several siblings in the UK as well.
When your marriage in Queens is ending, taking care of your children is always the top priority.
Call the experienced divorce team at Zelenitz, Shapiro & D’Agostino today at 718-523-1111 for a free consultation with an experienced Queens divorce and child custody lawyer.