If Michael Jackson's movements of the past decade were shrouded in mystery and rumor, the lives of his children were perhaps more so. Rarely seen in public, Prince Michael, 12, Paris Michael, 11 and Prince Michael II (aka "Blanket"), 7, may find themselves at the center of a legal battle over custody and the rights to what remains of Jackson's fortune.
But what the kids need now is stability, says licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Bonior.
"That most likely means keeping them in the same place where they've lived and trying to keep as many of the same people -- friends, child care providers, and family members -- near them, along with as much of their daily routine as possible."
A custody dispute would likely be between Jackson's parents -- Katherine and Joe -- and Debbie Rowe, the mother of Jackson's two older children, son Prince Michael, 12, and daughter Paris Michael, 11, though Jackson's former nanny is also trying to make contact with the children.
Below a look at the case for the possible guardians:
Katherine and Joe Jackson
Michael Jackson's parents, Katherine, 79, and Joe, 80, currently have custody of the three children at Jackson's Los Angeles home and have signaled a desire for the arrangement to be made permanent. Although the grandparents of Jackson's three children may have the strongest claim, their advanced age could work against them. Joe Jackson also has a reputation as a strict disciplinarian -- he once admitted to whipping Michael with a switch -- and Michael said in interviews that he was physically and emotionally abused by his father.
As the biological mother of Jackson's two older children -- Prince and Paris -- the former plastic surgeon's assistant may have a strong custody claim. But if she did gain custody of the older two, what would become of 7-year-old Blanket, whose mother's identity has never been revealed? Bonior says separating the siblings would be inadvisable.
"Disrupting their rhythm with each other," says Bonior, "and their ability to mourn together and support each other might cause an undue strain."
Rowe's estrangement from Jackson, limited contact with the kids and 2005 attempt to give up her parental rights could also work against her claim. Adding to the confusion, Rowe now says Jackson is not the children's biological father.
This former office assistant turned nanny claims to have a close bond with Jackson's three kids and is currently trying to get past the gauntlet of Katherine Jackson to see the children.
"I took these babies in my arm on the first day of their life," Rwaramba told a British reporter. "They are my babies."
Rwaramba worked for Jackson for 17 years and moved with him from Bahrain to Ireland to Germany following his acquittal in the 2005 child molestation trial, but was recently fired for undisclosed reasons.
Update: A judge today granted Katherine Jackson temporary custody of the three Jackson children. On Aug. 3, the judge will consider Jackson's petition to become the children's permanent guardian and administrator of their estates. -- 1:45 p.m. ET