Madonna and her ex-husband Guy Ritchie have been criticised by a judge over their conduct during an ongoing custody dispute over their son. The former couple have been embroiled in a bitter court case after 15-year-old Rocco reportedly stated that he would prefer to live in London with his father and in December defied a court order to return to his mother in New York.
The Material Girl singer won custody of her son after the couple divorced in 2008 after eight years together.
At a 50-minute hearing in Manhattan, both parents listened in via a telephone conference call. State Supreme Court Justice Deborah Kaplan appealed to the singer and film director to resolve the dispute amicably due to their adverse effect on their son, adding that the case should never have reached a courtroom.
"No one is disrupting his household other than the inability of the parents to reach a resolution," Judge Kaplan said. "If they cannot resolve this matter then eventually the court will."
"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."
Lawyer Ellen Sigal, representing Rocco, told the judge that, while he was enjoying his London schooling, he was having "a very difficult time" due to the custody arrangements. "Having this order over his head has been very stressful for him," she said. "We hope to put an end to this as soon as possible without exposing him to more litigation, press innuendo, any of that kind of thing."
The "Snatch" director was admonished for allowing his son to ignore a court order to return to New York. Richie enrolled their son at a London school instead. His lawyer Peter Bronstein asked the judge to drop her order for Rocco's return, but the request was met with disdain by Madonna's attorney Eleanor Alter, who responded: "If he thought it best for Rocco to live with him then the proper procedure would be to come back to this court. He didn't do that. He taught his son that to disobey court orders is okay. That is one of the things most detrimental to Rocco."
Judge Kaplan ignored Ritchie's lawyer's pleas that Rocco "would feel more comfortable" if he could be assured that the motion to compel him to return to New York was dropped.
"I am encouraged the parents agree on certain issues, happy he has a school he is comfortable with," Judge Kaplan said. "I don't think anyone wants the child to be removed from school. And am I vacating my order? No I am not. I have not issued a warrant for Mr Ritchie but I am encouraging the parents to work to resolve this matter and take the tremendous pressure off their son.
"My paramount concern is the best interests of the son and to remove him from the continued spotlight," she added, Sky News reports.
Mr Bronstein and Rocco's court appointed lawyer Ellen Sigal insisted that Rocco "had expressed very clearly" that he did not wish to return to his "controlling" mum and wished to remain in London with his father and step-mother Jacqui Ainsley. "Rocco is of an age where he cannot be physically compelled to get back on a plane," Mr Bronstein said.
The custody dispute began in December when Rocco blocked Madonna from seeing his Instagram account.
The 57-year-old singer, who is in the middle of her Rebel Heart tour has a 19-year-old daughter Lourdes by personal trainer Carlos Leon, son David Banda, now 10, who she adopted from Malawi with Ritchie, and daughter Mercy, now nine and also adopted from Malawi.
Apparently alluding to her ongoing custody battle, the singer later posted a picture of a woman sat on a man, who appears to be unconscious on the ground with the caption: "Knowledge is Power."