In the world of divorce, it’s easily the year’s biggest story: Brad and Angelina are calling it quits. Angelina Jolie has filed for divorce from Brad Pitt, and she’s asking for physical custody of their six children. It’s too early to determine if this divorce is going to be quiet and quick or long, loud, and acrimonious. Both celebrities own plenty of wealth and property, and the divorce papers don’t indicate anything about a prenuptial agreement, so it’s almost certain that the kids will be the focus of any dispute.

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Media reports and the internet have been filled with rumors and speculations about why Ms. Jolie has chosen divorce. Unconfirmed rumors spread by social media – and now instantly spread around the world – make celebrity divorces even more messy and complicated than the divorces of couples who are not public figures. When stars divorce, they have a common interest in keeping their personal business out of the news. Things tend to be messier when a star marries and divorces someone who isn’t a public figure. In that circumstance, according to one attorney, the spouse has “less to lose by going to the press and trying to make the other side look bad.”

If you’re divorcing in New York, before you take any legal action, you should consult with an experienced Westchester County divorce attorney. Ms. Jolie and Mr. Pitt probably want to settle their disputes quickly and quietly, and no-fault divorce in California allows them to do that. Stacy Phillips, a family law attorney in Los Angeles, found it curious that Ms. Jolie is asking for exclusive physical custody of the kids but is also requesting joint legal custody.

WHAT DOES JOINT LEGAL CUSTODY ACCOMPLISH?

Joint legal custody gives both parents the right to make decisions about the children’s place of residence, educations, healthcare, and religious training. “If somebody’s not capable of having custodial time then one would surmise that they’re not capable of making decisions,” Ms. Phillips said. All six children – three adopted children and the three born to the couple – are listed on the divorce petition with Ms. Jolie as the mother and Mr. Pitt as the father.

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“That’s secure and it’s healthier for the kids,” Ms. Phillips told the Los Angeles Times. She added that the couple’s oldest child, Maddox Jolie-Pitt, is now 15, and at that age he may express his own wishes regarding custody to the judge. If the request is reasonable and rational, under California family law it must be taken into consideration – along with many other factors – by the court. According to divorce lawyer Christopher Melcher, one of the attorneys for Katie Holmes when she divorced Tom Cruise, work and travel isn’t going to affect a custody decision because both parties can hire all of the nannies, tutors, and other childcare personnel they need.

WHY ARE ANGELINA JOLIE AND BRAD PITT CONSIDERED UNIQUE?

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt hold a unique spot in contemporary Hollywood. Masters of their craft with two Oscars and five Golden Globe Awards between them, they’re also vocal champions for a number of causes. And by meticulously managing their public images, they’ve reminded many fans of Hollywood’s most glamorous couples of yesteryear – Bogart and Bacall or Taylor and Burton. More than any couple in our time, they came to symbolize romance, glamor, and an extravagant Hollywood lifestyle – but with a 21st-century social conscience.

Before they married – it was only two years ago – they became the parents of three of their own children, and they adopted children from Ethiopia, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Ms. Jolie is an activist for breast cancer awareness and the plight of refugees, and she acts as a special envoy for the United Nations. Mr. Pitt was a vocal advocate for same-sex marriage and has contributed considerably to disaster relief in Haiti and in New Orleans.

Leonard Maltin, the film critic and film historian who reviewed movies on Entertainment Tonight from 1982 through 2010, said that “we don’t know anything about their private lives, really, nor is it any of our business, really. But they’re both successful and attractive people who have been forced to live at least some of their lives in public. So the public feels a certain ownership, whether they’re entitled to or not.” Brad Pitt released a statement to People magazine which 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.”

IS BRAD PITT BEING INVESTIGATED?

According to a Hollywood Reporter story on September 22, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services would not reveal if it is investigating Brad Pitt. “We have very strict confidentially laws that don’t allow us to confirm or deny the subjects of our investigations,” said spokesperson Amara Suarez. Sgt. Barry Montgomery of the Los Angeles Police Department said on September 22 that the LAPD is not investing Mr. Pitt and has received no allegation against him. “We understand how rumors get spun up, and hopefully we can put a few of them to rest,” said Sgt. Montgomery.

Nevertheless, a number media outlets were reporting that Ms. Jolie is claiming Mr. Pitt was recently abusive to at least one of the children on a flight from France, and the FBI is determining whether it should pursue an investigation. The FBI told the Hollywood Reporter: “In response to your inquiry regarding allegations within the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States; specifically, an aircraft carrying Mr. Brad Pitt and his children, the FBI is continuing to gather facts and will evaluate whether an investigation at the federal level will be pursued.”

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If you are divorcing in the state of New York, you’ll need legal help from an experienced family lawyer – a Westchester County divorce attorney, for example. Prior to World War Two, most spouses with marriage difficulties didn’t even turn to the courts. They lived together – or apart – unhappily for years, because only the most affluent couples could afford divorce. Like the glamor of old-time Hollywood, those days are gone. Divorce is available to everyone, and today there is no reason for anyone in any walk of life to remain in a failed, utterly hopeless marriage.

By: Kimberly Pelesz

Family law and criminal defense attorney Kimberly A. Pelesz received a B.S. degree magna cum laude and an M.P.A. degree summa cum laude from Binghamton University. She earned her J.D. from Pace University School of Law in White Plains, where she was selected for Phi Alpha Delta. Her charitable activities include work with My Sisters’ Place in White Plains and the Westchester County District Attorney’s Humane Education Taskforce.

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