It’s been two years since former Hollywood power couple Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt called it quits, but the custody battle their split precipitated seems no closer to ending. At issue now — according to TMZ — is whether Jolie is allowing Pitt to be a part of their children’s lives, as mandated by the court. If she isn’t, an expert tells Yahoo Lifestyle, she may be in danger of losing custody herself.
The tug of war over the couple’s six children — Maddox, 17; Pax, 14; Zahara, 13; Shiloh, 12; and Knox and Vivienne, 10 — began almost immediately after Jolie filed for divorce in 2016, citing “irreconcilable differences.” Just 10 days later, Jolie was granted full custody of all six kids with Pitt, whom she accused of having a drug problem. Pitt, as a result, was given therapist-supervised visitation rights with random drug testing required.
At the heart of the early battle were allegations that Pitt had been physically abusive to Maddox — Jolie’s eldest, whom she adopted prior to meeting Pitt on the set of Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Jolie alleged that a drunken Pitt became physically abusive toward Maddox while on a fuel stop aboard their private plane. An investigation was launched by the Los Angeles County Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS), which — in November 2016 — cleared Pitt of any child abuse charges.
Jolie then released a statement saying she was satisfied that DCFS felt the right “safeguards were in place” and agreed to form a “united front” with Pitt, who was granted full visitation rights. The plan seemed to be running smoothly until this June, when the Blast uncovered court documents showing a judge’s concern about Pitt’s lack of access to the kids. The document says in part, “If the minor children remain closed down to their father … it may result in a reduction of the time they spend with [Jolie] and may result in the Court ordering primary physical custody to [Pitt].”
In a statement to Refinery29, representatives for Jolie called it a “misleading leak” that only serves to hurt the kids. “Angelina has been focused only on their health and needs, which is why it was so important that this last court hearing be conducted privately,” the reps said. “It’s deplorable that someone, for their own selfish reasons, leaked selective portions of the confidential and sealed court record to create an inaccurate and unfair picture of what is really happening.”
Subsequently, Jolie filed a claim against Pitt alleging that he had paid “no meaningful child support since separation” (a claim he vehemently denies). While the monetary disagreements are a battle all their own, Kara M. Bellew, a New York City-based divorce attorney who handles high-profile clients, suggests Jolie may be in danger of losing custody.
“The starting point for any custody dispute is the best interest of the children — that’s the standard,” Bellew tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “The law takes the view that it’s in the best interest of the children to have meaningful relationships with both parents. The burden is on the custodial parent to foster and facilitate the relationship between the kids and other parent. If the court believes the custodial parent is unwilling or unable to do that, then that can be the basis for the court to change custody.”
Although Bellew thinks restrictions made sense in the beginning, she says that if Pitt has shown himself to be fit to parent, the law allows him open access. “The safety of the kids is going to be at the forefront for the court, but it’s so inauthentic for someone to see a child with a third party present,” she says. “So if you have someone who is ostensibly doing the right things — they’re sober, they’re compliant, he’s in therapy — then, well, he’s their dad,” she says. “The courts really start to relax supervision, because in that case, he has every right to enjoy a meaningful relationship with them without her interference.”
Bellew can only speculate as to Jolie and Pitt’s situation, but in others like it that she has dealt with, it’s often the children’s lawyers who can push a judge over the edge. “Children are almost routinely assigned attorneys in custody cases. One may say, ‘I hate my dad; I never want to see him,’ and another may say, ‘I want to see him every day,’ and in that case, they need their own attorney,” she said. “Their job is to advocate their client positions.”
Based on the news that’s come out publicly, Bellew thinks Jolie may need to tread lightly when it comes to Pitt — or else risk losing the custody she already has. “Even if Angelina thinks Brad is a dirtbag, she should be able to put that aside and say, ‘My children deserve a father and they deserve this relationship,’” says Bellew. “He shouldn’t be relegated to be an afterthought.”
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