I recently read a HuffPost article about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie that shared Mr. Pitt finally (after 5 years) obtained ‘joint physical and legal custody’ in California. You read that correctly: FIVE YEARS. If you haven’t been following, Mr. Pitt and Ms. Jolie were divorced in 2016 and have 6 kids together. During the original divorce, Mr. Pitt’s alleged acts of domestic violence and substance abuse problems led to him being denied joint legal decision making and custody. Upon this new, recent ruling, Ms. Jolie has stated she will appeal on the grounds that the judge improperly excluded her evidence relevant to the children’s health, safety, and welfare. Reading this quick article made me think of a few points to consider for families in similar situations:
It is never over.
1. Despite any divorce being ‘final’, the fight can continue for years. These post-decree battles normally (but not always) involve children.
2. In Arizona, any time there is a change in circumstances that affects the children’s best interest, a modification can be made by the court regarding legal decision-making, parenting time, and/or child support.
3. When a trial court issues a decision, the parties are able to continue litigating either by motioning for a new trial or seeking an appeal. Also, although rarely done, a party can petition the Arizona Supreme Court to hear the case after an appeal.
Domestic Violence & Substance Abuse
1. These are two very significant issues that can have a major impact on the court’s decisions affecting the health and welfare of children...but don’t assume they automatically will. These issues are something that need to be introduced, evidenced, and fought for in court.
2. It’s shocking for clients, but you cannot assume that judges will understand the complexities of either of these issues or the impact they have on a child’s health and wellness. When these issues are relevant to your case, it is important to get experts involved to help educate the court about the specific facts and evidence in your case and the impact they have on the children.
3. The court’s handling of substance abuse in family law cases varies widely. Some judges strictly order random testing and treatment. A number of courts/judges, however, will essentially dismiss the substance abuse issue if the addicted party does something to seek treatment...even if it’s not completed. There is no standard practice. Few judges understand addiction and therefore misunderstand treatment methods and/or the necessity for ongoing monitoring to ensure the children’s safety.
4, Similarly shocking, regarding cases with domestic violence, the court often lacks understanding of current research of it, and there is no standard practice. Judges can be focused exclusively on the physical evidence (broken bones and blood) and not give proper weight, in my opinion, to the psychological, emotional, and financial trauma that occurs with controlling and coercive control. Again, it is important to bring in an expert to help educate the judge about your case and the need to protect the health and well-being of the children.
The complex issues of substance abuse and domestic violence, as found in the Mr. Pitt and Ms. Jollie case, can drag a case out for years. This is because they require the court to be involved over time as one or both parents receive the treatment and services they need to address the substance or domestic violence issues in the case. Ultimately, the goal of the courts is to restructure the balance of power to ensure everyone is safe.
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Jason Castle is a family lawyer who specializes in high-conflict cases. He's also a former prosecutor & social worker. Hear his latest divorce thoughts!