By: Sarah T. McCain
While recently reading the entertainment section of the news, I came across a story highlighting the divorce of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Clearly most of their issues were not those that the average individual can really relate to. However, there were some items that you see in many high conflict divorces that deal with parenting time schedules and the division of property and debts.
First, their divorce started with allegations being made concerning Brad Pitt and the parties’ eldest son, then a teenager. Since that time, while you may see photos of him spending time with the younger children, there are little to none of him with this eldest child. So what do you do if a child, and more specifically a teenager, doesn’t want to spend time with you? Barring any issues with abuse and/or neglect, the options are fairly limited.
Many individuals who I meet with in this circumstance fall into one of two camps: they either don’t want to push parenting time and cause a further wedge to be driven between themselves and the minor child, or two, they want to try everything they can to maintain the relationship, meaning that a parenting plan will be established and the minor child will be expected to stick to it. This second point is easier said than done. If there is a desire to keep a relationship, the court will likely order that family therapy be established to address any issues which may exist within the relationship to determine whether the relationship can be repaired. Either option is appropriate and the court will approve language taking either position. If an agreement is not reached, then the court will take those steps as determined to be in the best interests of the minor child. This may include therapy, dinner visits, or a more standard parenting time structure. Just because the Pitt-Jolie family is famous, they are not immune from the same laws, options, or judicial oversight when it comes to dealing with divorce and child custody matters.
The second issue which made the news rounds in the past week dealt with a lingering dispute concerning the division of a jointly purchased castle in France. According to news reports, both parties desired to keep this property. It appears from these same reports that Ms. Jolie wished to keep the property since she initially found the property and encouraged them to purchase it during their relationship. Mr. Pitt wishes to keep it because he enjoys making wine on the estate and truly enjoys the property. While, having a castle in France with its own winery is not something most can relate to, there are aspects of their situation which do become issues in dividing property, even if it’s simply dividing a marital home.
If this case were taking place in Colorado, what would the court be looking at as part of its marital property division? The court would be assessing whether one party desired to stay in the home because the home is the home of the children and keeping them there is important for their consistency and stability. Between Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, it does not appear that this is an issue because neither actor states that this residence is a primary residence for any of their six children. The court would then look at the division of the rest of the property and debt comprising the marital estate. Is it necessary to award this property to one of the party’s to equalize the remaining division of the rest of the estate? As relates to the Pitt-Jolie family, while the totality of the marital estate and a specific division plan is unclear, there are reports that Brad Pitt believes that he has already given too much through the divorce process and is unwilling to give anymore. This is a common complaint in divorces and one that must be worked through to determine whether the division is equitable in any fashion or, if not equal or close there, if there is ample justification to divide the estate in a lopsided fashion. The feeling of being asked to endlessly give is something litigants might feel and is addressed by making sure any agreements are done in a truly voluntary fashion, after full consideration of the assets and debts. If a case is to be settled, both parties must feel that they have received a fair shake in the asset division. Another factor that the court may consider in this circumstance is how the property is going to be used moving forward. It is not clear from the news reports if Ms. Jolie has been to the property or intends on using for any purpose. There were reports that Mr. Pitt enjoyed being “labeled as a winemaker,” so it is possible that he does at least spend some time there. The arguments that she found the property and wished to purchase it initially are not very strong arguments towards her keeping the property following the divorce. If dividing up a martial home, the court would give little to no weight to who initially discovered the home. The biggest issue facing the average citizen in dividing up a marital property is the ability the refinance and pay out any necessary equity. This can be a debilitating factor for many and can ultimately result in the sale of a home. A party wishing to keep a home should evaluate all of their options in keeping a home before making the argument regarding use.
While the issues raised in this article are fairly commonplace, it’s at least refreshing to see that celebrities go through the same issues as regular people when it comes to dissolving their marriages. The only difference being that the media does not find the average person’s divorce noteworthy. As someones’s attorney, I certainly do.