In the wake of the almost apocalyptic marital demise and subsequent divorce proceeding of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, an interesting legal discussion has been raised regarding custody of the six Jolie-Pitt children.
As the world now knows, a media frenzy began when Angelina’s (Divorce) Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, filed September 19, 2016, requested granting joint legal custody of the children to her and Brad, sole physical custody of the children to her, and child visitation (parenting time) with the children to Brad.
The release of the public divorce papers created a media firestorm as to the underlying reasons why Angelina would request sole physical custody of the couple’s six children. With rumors circulating regarding the alleged incidents that led to the breakdown of the marriage, Brad’s alleged drug and alcohol use (or lack thereof), and the alleged involvement of the Department of Child and Family Services due to accusations of child abuse, a seemingly very private family became involved in a very unfortunate and public family law proceeding – with lessons that anyone can learn from.
Angelina’s request for joint legal custody contemplates that she and Brad will share decisions regarding the children’s health, education and welfare. In creating legal custody orders, it is important that such orders are specific, and describe the various circumstances under which both parents’ consent is required. For example, legal custody orders should specify that decisions regarding where any child goes to school, when a child obtains a driver’s license, which extracurricular activities a child should enroll in, or whether mental health counseling should be jointly provided. In the absence of specific orders concerning joint legal custody, a parent may act alone concerning a legal decision regarding the child. If the parents’ relationship is acrimonious, this could give rise to future legal problems, and possible judicial intervention, between the parents.
Angelina’s request for sole physical custody of the children means that, if the court indeed grants this request, the children will reside with Angelina subject to Brad’s visitation rights, unless it is shown that the visitation would be detrimental to the best interests of the children. Courts tend to disfavor sole physical custody unless a joint physical custody is truly not in the best interests of the children. In making custody decisions, the court will take into account such factors as each child’s health, safety and welfare, as well as any history of abuse by one parent against the children or even against the other parent, as domestic violence allegations can affect a custody arrangement. The court will also look to a parent’s habitual or continual use of alcohol or drugs; this is why Brad’s alleged alcohol and/or drug use is so inflammatory in the “Brangelina” divorce saga.
The primary focus in any family law proceeding involving custody and visitation is what is in the best interests of the children. Courts tend to favor that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents unless there is some abhorrent reason why the children should not be around one of the parents. Though the proceedings concerning the Jolie-Pitt children are indeed sad, this very public matter has raised the issues of custody and visitation matters in a very public way, providing insights that can apply to any marital dissolution.