“Everyone talks about the joy of having kids — blah, blah, blah,” Brad Pitt said in an interview not quite one year ago. “But I never knew how much I could love something until I looked in the faces of my children.”
The dad of six may not be looking into those faces as often as he’d like if soon-to-be-ex-wife Angelina Jolie gets her way.
Jolie filed for divorce on Monday, citing irreconcilable differences and asking for physical custody of the couple’s kids — Maddox, 15; Pax, 12; Zahara, 11; Shiloh, 10; and twins Knox and Vivienne, 8 — and for Pitt to have only visitation rights.
Reports on Jolie’s motivation are vague and conflicting; while Page Six is claiming that Pitt’s alleged dalliance with co-star Marion Cotillard is behind the split, TMZ cites discrepancies over parenting styles as Jolie’s reason.
“Angelina’s decision to file has to do with the way Brad was parenting the children … she was extremely upset with his methods,” TMZ notes. “Our sources say Angelina became ‘fed up’ with Brad’s consumption of weed and possibly alcohol, and mixed with what she believes is ‘an anger problem’ … felt it became dangerous for the children.”
Joint legal vs. physical custody
It’s been reported that Angelina is seeking joint legal custody of their kids. If accurate, according to New Jersey divorce attorney Jonathan Wolfe, who was on the team representing Katie Holmes in her split from Tom Cruise, that means “she is agreeing that Brad should share the right to make major decisions for their children,” including medical, educational, extracurricular, and religious decisions.
In addition, Wolfe tells Yahoo Beauty, “If she is seeking sole physical custody, as reported, she is seeking to have the children reside primarily with her. This does not mean that they would not spend time with Brad. He would still have the right to visitation as determined by a judge. That said, he could have significantly less time than joint physical custody, which typically would give him approximately 50 percent of the time.”
He notes that joint physical custody is common in California — land of harmonious co-parenting á la Heidi Klum and Seal and Jennifer Lopez with Marc Anthony. “Assuming Brad opposes her application and seeks joint physical custody, Angelina will need to convince a judge that spending less than 50 percent of their time with Brad is in the best interest of the children,” he says.
“If he agrees to what she wants, then there’s no problem,” New York City-based divorce mediator Ken Neumann tells Yahoo Beauty. But if there’s disagreement, he says, then the parents will likely be forced to see a mediator, while a forensic psychologist would be called upon to assess the situation from the kids’ point of view.
Jolie would then have to present to a judge some “legitimate reasons,” Neumann says, that she should have sole physical custody — such as the children being too young to be carted back and forth between homes or having special needs, or such as the other parent (Pitt in this case) having a schedule incompatible with childcare, being an alcoholic, or being otherwise “unfit” to care for the children.
Differing parenting styles
At this point, all that’s been reported are vagaries about the different parenting styles of Jolie and Pitt and reports that Jolie is unhappy with Pitt’s approach.
An unnamed source told People, for example, that Pitt “has always been stricter,” and that he “wanted the kids to have more structure” and “was more about having rules.” While the source said Pitt never used any kind of physical discipline, he was known to “get frustrated sometimes and yell at the kids,” while Jolie was more chill. “Angelina always had a more relaxed attitude when it came to the kids. She definitely never yells,” the source said.
Speaking to the Telegraph last year, Pitt shared that he is the disciplinarian in the family, but only with the boys. “Girls do no wrong, so I don’t have to be,” he said. “I feel like my job is to show ’em around, help them find what they want to do with their life, put as many things in front of them, and pull them back when they get out of line, so they know who they are.”
Pitt, in a statement to People about the split, said, “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.”
However, filing for divorce — and expecting full physical custody — over differing approaches to parenting sounds like a stretch to many experts.
“If that’s really why they’re splitting up, it has to be something severe,” such as physical abuse or drug use in front of children, Barbara Rothberg, a New York City divorce coach, family therapist, and mediator, tells Yahoo Beauty. “And then you’d go for full custody and ask for supervised visitation. Because with regular visitation, you have no idea what goes on [during those visits] and you have even less control.”
Rothberg adds that all parents have slightly different styles, “but you work it out. Those things aren’t divorce issues. So my guess is that there’s a lot more going on than parenting.”
Neumann concurs, noting that “she is suggesting his parenting style is inferior to hers. But before you report someone for their style to the authorities, they have to go pretty far afield. And if it doesn’t include alcohol or drugs, we [as a society] give people a lot of leeway in this country with their styles.”
That issue has been bandied about, and Wolfe says this about it: “Whenever an allegation of substance abuse is raised, it is taken seriously by the court. If the allegations are substantiated, the court can limit parenting time and even impose supervision so that the substance-abusing parent is only permitted to spend time with the children in the presence of a third party. It can certainly be a factor in convincing a judge to award sole, instead of joint, physical custody. No matter how famous the parents may be, the court’s concern in a custody proceeding is to protect the children.”
To that end, the experts agree that shielding their kids from the public eye as much as possible would be hugely beneficial to them during the divorce.
“Adolescents in particular are self-conscious to begin with. Couple that with public scrutiny, and you have a recipe for acting out, anger, and depression,” Connecticut-based child and adolescent therapist Barbara Greenberg tells Yahoo Beauty. “Even though they grew up in the public eye, this does not provide a buffer against the distress associated with a public divorce. There will be problems, sadly. The adolescents need to have someone to talk to — outside of the family — sooner rather than later.”