The planet is shocked — SHOCKED! — at the news Tuesday that Angelina Jolie filed for divorce from Brad Pitt; now comes the usual wave of gossipy speculation from the media and divorce-court peanut galleries about why.
Was she upset with his parenting policies? Were there concerns about drinking and drugs? Did one of them have — gasp! — an affair? (Not that this would be unusual in Hollywood.)
The impending divorce of a widely admired “golden” couple after 12 years together, and just two years of marriage, comes after more than a year of multiple Hollywood divorces, including the toxic split just last month of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard after 15 months of marriage.
But that messy business could pale in comparison to the divorce of Jolie and Pitt, both multimillionaire movie stars, both famous human-rights activists, owners of luxury properties in the USA and abroad, and the parents of six children.
Here’s what we know and what questions remain:
What does Jolie’s divorce filing say?
The document, filed in Los Angeles Monday, cites “irreconcilable differences,” the usual boilerplate language in divorce proceedings, with no details about what the differences entailed. It says the two separated last Thursday, Sept. 15. It indicates she is not seeking spousal support.
She lists “miscellaneous jewelry and other personal effects,” and earnings from and after the separation as “separate” property, and indicates community and quasi-community property are to be determined.
It lists their six kids (Maddox, 15, Pax, 12, Zahara, 11, Shiloh, 10, and twins Vivienne and Knox, 8).
What do Jolie and Pitt have to say?
Not much and what they did say was mostly boilerplate.
Her lawyer, Robert Offer, issued a statement Tuesday on her behalf, confirming Jolie, 41, filed for divorce, a decision “made for the health of the family. She will not be commenting at this time, and asks that the family be given their privacy during this difficult time.”
Later, Pitt, 52, issued a statement to People, saying, “I am very saddened by this, but what matters most now is the well-being of our kids. I kindly ask the press to give them the space they deserve during this challenging time.”
What’s the most surprising aspect of Jolie’s filing?
She wants Pitt to have joint legal custody of the kids but she wants their sole physical custody. Divorce attorneys say that’s rare, even in celebrity divorces.
“They’ve been co-parenting for so many years, it’s unusual and surprising to see one parent asking for sole custody at this late stage,” says celebrity-divorce lawyer Neena Tankha, a partner in the New York firm Warshaw Burstein. “It suggests there was some incident or series of incidents that made Angelina think to question his parenting. It’s a very aggressive move for someone who has co-parented in the way this family has been accustomed.”
It suggests that Jolie believes she is the better parent to the children and she doesn’t want Pitt to have a say after the divorce, says divorce lawyer Joshua Forman, a partner in Chemtob Moss and Forman in New York.
“It’s saying, I want to make all the decisions for the children, I want to do what I want when I want, jet around the world, live where I want … without Pitt getting in the way,” Forman says. “When one party asks for primary custody, (it means) they don’t want interaction with the other party and they don’t think the other party has good decision-making processes.”
Is there a pre-nuptial agreement covering custody issues?
No one knows for sure if there is a pre-nup covering anything, including their extensive assets or their kids. (Divorce lawyers agree it would be imprudent for two multimillionaires with six kids not to have one.) But assuming there is and that it has language dealing with custody, it may not matter, says Lois Liberman, partner and leader of the Blank Rome matrimonial division in New York.
“It may say something about ‘it is our intention,’ but it’s not determinant, not in New York and not in California, I believe. The best interest of the children is what controls custody determinations,” Liberman says. “Courts have found that it’s in the best interests of the children to have as much access and input as possible to both parents.”
For most non-celeb marriages, a pre-nup spelling out custody in event of a divorce due to bad behavior, such as adultery, would be unusual, she says. Not so for Hollywood marriages. But it still wouldn’t be the bottom line in deciding custody, she says.
“Given the way they built their family (giving birth and adopting both before and after the marriage), it wouldn’t be weird for them to consider a custodial arrangement in event of a divorce,” she says. “But being an adulterer does not mean you’re a bad parent, not in the eyes of courts now. It has to do with parental judgment.”
On the other hand, if there are allegations of, say, drug use or anger issues, that could lead to the non-custodial parent having supervised parenting time, says Kelly Frawley, a divorce lawyer in Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman in New York.
“In situations like this where the children presumably have multiple nannies, supervision should not prevent an amicable resolution because such nannies can act as the supervisors, thereby limiting disruption to the children and embarrassment to the supervised party,” Frawley says.
Why is this divorce seen as different, more shocking than other recent celebrity splits?
“It’s not different, it’s just that it’s Brad and Angelina,” shrugs Forman. “People love to read about golden people falling. They had this great affair, they’re the best couple, this and that and the other thing, and people want to read about it.”
“They have six children and that’s not typical for celebrity couples at all — in fact, I can’t think of another celebrity couple with six children,” says Tankha.
Plus, says Liberman, there’s the “unorthodox way” they built their family and focused so much attention on their kids. “Clearly the children are on the forefront of their brains, their relationship is built on caring for their children and other children,” she says.
But in the end, even a celebrity divorce is still a divorce, she says.
“It’s not that different from other divorces, and the law provides some mechanisms to deal with these questions even if the couple have more zeroes after their names and prettier faces and a unique family.”
So now what?
As in any divorce, the lawyers will commence dickering, mostly behind closed doors. As in any celeb divorce, the usual unnamed “sources” will commence leaking like sieves to favored media to benefit one side or the other. If everyone keeps their head, Jolie and Pitt will avoid the sort of media circus that surrounded the Depp/Heard divorce, with its dueling allegations of domestic abuse and mendacity.
But Hollywood life will go on: Jolie is set to star in Disney’s Maleficent 2, though the film has yet to go into production. She’s keeping up her directing chops, too, with three films since 2011. She just finished directing the Netflix film First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia, about the brutal Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s in the country where son Maddox was born.
As a special envoy for the UN, Jolie is stepping up her do-gooder activism: This year she became a visiting professor at the London School of Economics, and has worked to shine a spotlight on the worldwide refugee crisis for years. On Sept. 8 she made a surprise appearance at a major UN summit, blasting the peacekeeping organization for incidents of sexual assault, saying cases of women and children being sexually exploited by those in charge of protecting them were “intolerable.”
Meanwhile, Pitt will release two films this fall: War Machine and the highly-anticipated WWII spy drama Allied, with Marion Cotillard (out Nov. 23). A recent T Magazine profile of Pitt did not mention Jolie.
Courtesy of Maria Puente, USA TODAY.