How the Brad Pitt / Angelina Jolie divorce will impact family law…

When you spawn with another you will be tied to them forever.

This gets complicated when the relationship between the parents fails.

The State of Florida protects parents and their relationships.  In fact, Florida Law provides:

It is the public policy of this state that each minor child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents separate or the marriage of the parties is dissolved and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of childrearing.

Establishing parental responsibility over the children is a major issue in the dissolution of a marriage.  Parental responsibility includes who gets to make decisions over a child’s life, such as what school the child(ren) should attend or what medical treatment(s) are appropriate.

Decision making authority can be granted to one parent if the decision making of the other parent has proven to be detrimental to the child(ren).

This does not mean one parent is granted sole custody if the other parent is seemingly not as good a parent or has a substance abuse issue or has a volatile temper.

None of these are individual ground for sole custody.  There must be a nexus between irresponsible behaviors and the minor children.  By way of example, if someone is an “angry” person, but has not been “angry” in the presence of their children or their “anger” has not impacted the children, then it bears no relevance to the issue.

However, if the anger does impact the children, then certain necessary safeguards need to be addressed.

We live in a dysfunctional world.  Statistics indicate that 20% of the population suffer from some kind of mental disorder and the percentage of the population that is “medicated” is much higher then that.

So what happens when the marriage of a high profile Hollywood couple fails and it plays out in the media, for the whole world to view and dissect?

Angelina Jolie appears to have orchestrated her (and her children’s) exit from her Husband.

I am basing I say next on my understanding from media reports that was the catalyst that caused this:

  • Wife claims Husband drinks too much and smokes pot.
  • Wife claims Husband has a temper with her and the children.
  • Wife claims an incident occurred on an airplane between Husband and teenaged son while Husband was under influence.  Media reports are that the son was not physically hurt.
  • An “anonymous” source on the airplane reported the incident.
  • Husband has cooperated with every facet of the investigation.
  • Husband let Wife leave and take custody of the children, passed 2 urine tests, and had the patience for his attorneys to negotiate time he could spend with his children.

Based on this incident, Angelina requested “sole custody” and in his response, Brad recently requested “joint custody”.

In Florida, this would not be a reason to grant a Mother “sole decision making”.  It might cause the Court concern that there was an incident between child and parent, but if it is an isolated incident, it probably would not even have an impact in timesharing.

If an investigation by the State uncovered additional incidents, they would have to view the problem as a whole and decide how much of a threat was posed to the children.  Depending upon the number of incidents and severity, anger management, supervised/step-up visitation, and other therapies could be ordered.

If this case was in Florida, and this was the fact pattern, Brad should ultimately be awarded “shared decision making” and frequent and liberal timesharing.

While I bet it broke Brad’s soul not to see his children for a month, he did the right thing.  He did not make an attempt to snatch the children or disrupt their lives any further than they had been disrupted, he was cool about it and likely listened to some excellent advice from an experienced family law attorney.

In Florida, one parent’s attitude and ability to promote a positive relationship is a parenting factor and under this fact pattern would probably weigh in Brad’s favor for the way he handled this situation and against Angelina for her orchestrated efforts and keep the children away from Brad until she deemed it was “safe”.

Subjective evidence (the mother had rented a “secret” home away from the family homes several months prior to the incident) and experience suggest to me that Angelina had made up her mind long before the airplane incident and was waiting for something to happen so she could exit in this dramatic manner.

So how will this affect the process of divorce?

In the short term it might create little chaos, and not just for people looking for a way out of their marriage.  People who are angry at their spouse may try to utilize this “scorched earth” strategy.

Based upon what we know now, it would not surprise me if Angelina’s strategy backfires and she does not ultimately obtain sole or even supervised custody. More importantly for Angelina, she may lose in the public eye.  Angelina has spent many years crafting a public image from a wild-child to a world-traveling champion of the young and disenfranchised, and it would be a shame for all of her good works to be negated.  I understand both parties have hired “crisis coordinators” to manage this public crisis to their images.  I’m not sure how they manage the hurt to their children.

In the long term, this case should DISCOURAGE people from taking unreasonable positions for the “protection” of their children.  In the scenario of this marriage, both parties utilized the services of nannys and bodyguards to assist in child care.  Neither parent was completely “hands on”, in part due to the nature of their careers and charitable works.  Nonetheless, there have been times recently when Angelina left the children in the care of Brad (and their employees) and vice versa.  Its difficult to overcome the argument of leaving your children in the care of your supposedly incompetent, violent or drunk spouse.

There’s also this: has the charging spouse been a perfect human being? Ever yelled at you or the kids, ever gotten drunk or stoned in public, ever gotten in an argument where they’ve pushed or slapped their spouse?  Remember, you start airing your spouse’s dirty laundry and there is the possibility that your own dirty laundry will end up in the court files.

There are certainly circumstances in this world that would warrant granting one parent sole decision making and restricted timesharing to the other, but in Florida…. the Angelina/Brad fact pattern as we know it would not be enough.  Not even close.

Hopefully the family will realize that it is in their children’s best interest to resolve these personal issues privately and not make their problems a commodity for public consumption.  Only time will tell….

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Eddie Stephens is a partner in Ward Damon located in West Palm Beach, FL. Mr. Stephens was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1997 and is Board Certified in Family and Marital Law.  After starting his career as an attorney for the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office, Stephens has developed a successful family law practice focused on highly disputed divorces. Through hundreds of hearings and dozens of trials, Stephens has honed his practice by making straightforward arguments that bring opposing sides closer together in order to find a successful resolution.

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