Madonna Fortune Fight: How The Singer Persevered Through Many Court Battles
February 27, 2019
At this year’s Oscars, Madonna publicly laid to rest her “feud” with Lady Gaga. While the former dispute between the two music superstars appeared to be little more than media chatter, Madonna has been through more than her fair share of true feuds, in court rooms spanning three continents.
And unlike Madonna’s disagreement with Lady Gaga, her other feuds involved real stakes — some with the lives of children on the line. Was Madonna also able to end those with a hug and a smile?
This is the fourth installment in our Fortune Fights series, based on the celebrity documentary television show, Fortune Fights, for which we serve as hosts, legal commentators and executive producers. New episodes air on the REELZ network Thursday nights at 9 pm et/pt. The next episode, Madonna: Fortune Fight, airs February 28th.
Madonna is no stranger to courtrooms. She famously married and divorced both Sean Penn and Guy Ritchie. While her split with Penn was resolved quickly and quietly based on a confidential prenuptial agreement, the Ritchie divorce was significantly more complicated.
Despite Madonna’s great success and wealth at the time, she surprisingly married Guy Ritchie without a prenuptial agreement. This led to a drawn-out divorce battle in England that ended with Madonna paying out around 60 million pounds — worth more than 90 million in U.S. dollars — to Ritchie in the property settlement.
Even though they finalized the divorce in 2008, Madonna and Ritchie continued fighting, spending a reported nine months in a courtroom battle over custody over their son, Rocco, in 2016. Ultimately, the judge allowed 16-year old Rocco choose which parent to live with, and he chose to reside primarily with Ritchie in London, rather than Madonna in New York (and other places).
And Madonna did not only have to contend with divorce issues. In 2012, she tussled with the Marlon Brando Estate over licensing issues when she wanted to continue using Brando’s image during concerts for her famous song, Vogue.
In 2016, Madonna won a key federal court of appeals ruling that determined the same song did not improperly infringe on another song, released in 1976, based on a similar horn blast that lasted all of a quarter of a second.
Most recently, Madonna was sued by her neighbors in a New York co-op apartment building who want the singer to pay for the extensive legal fees that Madonna’s three-year lawsuit against the co-op board caused. Madonna unsuccessfully sought a court order to change the rules at the complex so that her children and nannies would be allowed to stay there even if she was out of town on tour.
But Madonna’s biggest court fights came not in the United States or Europe, but in Africa. There, she was involved in three separate legal proceedings over her efforts to adopt children from the impoverished country of Malawi.
The first was completed relatively smoothly, as Madonna adopted son David Banda. Banda’s father consented to the adoption, although he later said in an interview that he did not understand what the adoption meant. He claimed that he thought Madonna would take David away to be educated, and then he would return home to work on his birth-father’s farm.
Madonna’s second adoption, for daughter Mercy James, was rejected in 2008, in large part because Madonna was not a resident of the African country. Madonna appealed the decision to Malawi’s Supreme Court and won a reversal, based on her established connections to the country, which included extensive charitable work.
Most recently, after publicly denying that she was in adopting more children in Malawi, in 2017 Madonna adopted twin girls, again from an orphanage after their father was unable to support them. As with the first adoption, the birth father of the twins complained to the media that he did not understand it and thought the arrangement was temporary, not permanent.
There can be no doubt that Madonna has given all four of the children a much more privileged and comfortable life than they would have had growing up in an orphanage in Africa. And her charitable works there have been notable, including raising a reported $7.5 million dollars to open a pediatric surgery and intensive care wing to a hospital in Malawi in 2017. Malawi’s President was so grateful he publicly proclaimed that the country was adopting Madonna as a daughter of the nation.
Yet some have questioned why a celebrity like Madonna was able to adopt the children, without ever residing in the country in apparent conflict with local laws, especially when birth parents were still alive. At times during her struggles to navigate the court system and complete the adoptions, Madonna was accused of being an unfit mother, someone who used fame and fortune to work the system, and even kidnapping. Yet she persevered and let nothing stand in her way.
For more on the Material Girl and her legal struggles, make sure to watch Madonna: Fortune Fight, on REELZ.
The Fortune Fights celebrity documentary series airs on the REELZ cable network, with new episodes airing Thursdays at 9 pm. In the series, Danielle and Andy Mayoras explore the legal ups and downs, and fortunes earned and lost, of stars like Johnny Depp, Madonna, Britney Spears, Robin Williams, Harrison Ford and others.
Danielle and Andy Mayoras are co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!, television hosts and keynote speakers. You can find them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn. Be sure to check out their new TV show, Fortune Fights, on the REELZ channel.