Madonna's plans to adopt an African baby could be wrecked today by a court bid to stop her taking the child to Britain.
And the challenge could mean ultimately that she would have to live in Malawi for 18 months if she is determined to make little David Banda part of her family.
The plan by the 48-year-old singer to adopt the 13-month-old boy has caused concern in Britain and Malawi, which both have strict laws governing inter-country adoption.
Yesterday, in an unexpected twist in the adoption drama, it emerged that a wide range of aid agencies, child charities and church groups across the country have joined together to try to prevent what they claim are efforts to allow her to fast-track the process and sidestep regulations.
Malawi's Human Rights Consultative Committee, an umbrella grouping of 67 non-governmental organisations, is going to the High Court in Lilongwe today to argue that last Thursday's interim court order granting Madonna permission to take David back to Britain was unlawful.
The group's lawyer, Justin Dzonzi, insisted it was a simple matter. Malawi law stated that anybody from outside the country wanting to adopt a Malawian child had to spend at least 18 months as a resident, during which their suitability as a prospective parent would be assessed.
'The decision of the court was unlawful,' said Mr Dzonzi, who is also chairman of the committee.
'Madonna is not a resident of Malawi and therefore does not qualify to apply to adopt until meeting the residency requirement. We are not against Madonna adopting a child per se. We are simply asking that she follows the laws of this country.
'We believe that the order last week is unlawful outside the statutory provision of the Adoption of Children Act.'
There has also been concern raised in Britain as to whether Madonna has satisfied the strict requirements of British law on adopting a child from abroad. A whole series of steps have to be taken, and it appears she has not yet complied with some of them. The process normally takes between two and four years.
Last Thursday Madonna and her 38-year-old film director husband, Guy Ritchie had hoped to leave Malawi with David after a court granted an interim order allowing the child to leave the country for up to a year.
The couple were ready to fly back to Britain in their private jet when problems arose, reportedly over difficulties in arranging a passport for the child.
After waiting for three hours on the tarmac negotiating with immigration officials, the boy was taken back to the luxury lodge where multi-millionaire Madonna had stayed during her nine day visit to the impoverished southern African country.
At today's hearing, a barrister will make an application on behalf of the committee - whose organisations include Save The Children Malawi - to be made a party to the adoption proceedings. If successful they will then request that last week's court order be suspended, pending a judicial review of that order.
The whole process, if the court supports the committee at each step, could take up to six months. And lawyers say there would be no question of little David being allowed to leave Malawi during that time.
Mr Dzonzi said that if the court ruled against her, Madonna would be forced to apply for residency in Malawi and then live in the country for 18 months before she would have any prospect of being allowed to take David back to Britain.
He said much of the confusion surrounding last week's court order was because the case had been held in camera, and the court had not issued a written explanation of its ruling.
But there was a growing feeling in Malawi that Madonna's superstar status and her promises to fund an orphan care centre had meant the usual rules had not been applied rigorously.
Madonna picked the boy from a 'short list' of 12 children. He had been place in an orphanage by his father, Johane Banda, whose wife died a week after David was born and whose other two sons died of malaria.
Davaid was taken from the orphanage to the luxury lodge where Madonna was staying a week ago. The singer was formally introduced to his father, Johane Banda for the first time at the court hearing on Thursday.
At first David was cared for at the lodge by a foster mother but on Saturday morning she was driven back to the Home of Hope Orphanage in Mchinji, where David had been living.
Since then a young woman and her husband, who are among three members of Madonna's staff who stayed behind last week, have been looking after him.
Sources said they had hoped to fly back to Britain today with David, having obtained a legal document which will act as a temporary passport. But they will now have to await the outcome of today's hearing at the high court.
It seems likely that if the saga drags on, David will have to return to the orphanage. Last night his father Johane, who lives in a mud hut in a village reached by a two hour car journey down a dirt track, said he was unhappy at the prospect of a court hearing.
'As David's father I have no problems with the adoption process so what is the concern?" he said. "Are they jealous or what? What I want is a good life and a good education for my child.'
Yesterday Mr Banda's cousin, Pofera Banda, said if David was eventually taken to London, the family would want to visit Madonna there to check he was being properly looked after. 'What I want to know is that if the child is taken, as we've been told, when will our child be visiting us? When will we visit him? How much contact will there be between us and him?
'If that is not going to happen then as a family we are saying the child should not go.'
Madonna's lawyers will be in court today to oppose the application by the committee, which will be heard in private. Whatever happens, it seems that David's fate will remain unclear for some time to come.