The custody battle is over but the war continues. And what a war it is. Four years and eight months, and heavens knows how many millions in legal bills, after they split, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have finally reached a landmark arrangement over five of their six children.
Pitt, 57, has won the 50/50 shared custody he wanted of the children, now aged between 12 and 17. The case has been dragged out so long that eldest son Maddox is now 19, at university in Korea, and mercifully free of the whole ugly mess — legally at least.
But the order — handed down on May 13 — does not herald the outbreak of peace within this fractured family. Not by a long, long way.
Jolie, 45, is appealing against the judgment, and it can be revealed that she is trying to get the judge thrown off the case, which will mean that his decision is ‘vacated’ or, in plain English, nullified.
Four years and eight months after they split, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (pictured in Mr and Mrs Smith) have finally reached a landmark arrangement over five of their six children
That will come to the appeal court in California on July 9. Pitt has now hired a top-drawer litigator, known as the ‘best of the best’, to fight his corner in this bitterest of Hollywood divorces.
Ted Boutrous Jr is no divorce lawyer; he’s in the business of fighting multi-million-dollar lawsuits. He made his name defending Walmart against a class action in the Supreme Court and has acted for Apple among others.
His speciality is First Amendment actions, defending free speech, so you might think that the small matter of who gets to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with the Jolie-Pitt children is way beneath him, but he is proving Pitt’s secret weapon.
Indeed, it is his name on papers, which are Pitt’s response to Jolie’s appeal, that claim the judge thought her evidence ‘lacked credibility in many important areas’.
Others associated with the hearings allege that Team Jolie in court tried to discredit experts who were giving evidence about what would be best for the children.
One source said: ‘There have been a string of desperate moves. ‘Anyone who said something they didn’t like, they would fight against their credibility to testify. That has gone on for months and they have thrown everything at it.’
It’s impossible to verify this account as the custody hearings were conducted in private and all documents relating to them were filed under seal, meaning they cannot be viewed. Jolie’s agent Mindy Nyby did not respond to requests for comment.
While the custody arrangement is a significant step, the divorce is far from settled. The pair still need to deal with the question of finances — a complex matter when there are two wealthy individuals with global assets and properties — and that’s not even been started yet.
Pitt, 57, has won the 50/50 shared custody he wanted of the children who are now aged between 12 and 17
Considering it has taken more than four years to get to this point, no one is predicting the case will be ending any time soon. Indeed, the battle of the Jolie-Pitts has been epic in scale and utterly unedifying.
It long ago exceeded the span of their doomed marriage, which lasted just 25 months, starting with an eccentric ceremony at their vast estate in France and ending with a huge bust-up on a private jet on the Tarmac at Minnesota that led to Jolie filing for divorce.
And as for the venom unleashed, it has been far worse than anything either side expected. Pitt said in a tear-soaked confessional interview in 2017 that he was hoping for a co-operative divorce.
‘We are both doing our best. I heard one lawyer say, “No one wins in court, it’s just a matter of who gets hurt worse.” And it seems to be true… it’s just an investment in vitriolic hatred. I just refuse. And fortunately my partner in this agrees.’
How very wrong he was.
The two actors started a romance after co-starring in the film Mr. & Mrs. Smith in 2005. Children came thick and fast. Maddox had been adopted from an orphanage in Cambodia by Jolie in 2002, while she was married to actor Billy Bob Thornton. Pitt became his adoptive father in 2006.
Together the couple then adopted Pax, now 17, from Vietnam when he was three, and baby Zahara, now 16, from Ethiopia. They also had three birth children together, daughter Shiloh in 2006 and twins Knox and Vivienne in 2008.
The couple were married in August 2014 at their house in rural France, in a ceremony which heavily involved their children, who had been allowed to doodle designs that were then stitched on to the bride’s veil
Together the couple then adopted Pax, now 17, from Vietnam when he was three, and baby Zahara, now 16, from Ethiopia. They also had three birth children together, daughter Shiloh in 2006 and twins Knox and Vivienne in 2008
They were married in August 2014 at their house in rural France, in a ceremony which heavily involved their children, who had been allowed to doodle designs that were then stitched on to the bride’s veil.
But just two years later, it all fell apart. On Wednesday, September 14, 2016, the whole clan travelled from Paris to LA, with a refuelling stop in Minnesota. There was an ‘incident’ as the jet stood on the runway, and on Monday, September 19, Jolie announced that the couple were separating and that she was seeking a divorce ‘for the health of the family’.
Her manager, Geyer Kosinski, immediately hinted that he spoke for the health of the kids when he remarked: ‘Angelina will always do what is in the best interest to protect her children.’
Pitt made no response. The role of adopted son Maddox, then 15, was widely raised, with People magazine and the website TMZ claiming that he was involved. One source said that Brad and Angelina argued and Maddox jumped in to defend her verbally.
Both the FBI and the Department of Children and Family Services investigated but neither found that Pitt posed a danger to the children.
In November 2016, the FBI said: ‘In response to allegations made following a flight… carrying Mr Brad Pitt and his children, the FBI has conducted a review of the circumstances and will not pursue further investigation. No charges have been filed in this matter.’
Initially, the divorce looked peaceful enough. In 2017, the pair released a statement saying that they were seeking mediation via a private judge — Judge Ouderkirk, who had married them.
Pitt quietly accompanied the family to Cambodia for the premiere of Jolie’s new film. She bought a £19 million house just around the corner from his home in Los Angeles.
Pitt was said to have quietly completed a ‘VIP rehab’ and be attending both AA and NA meetings, after admitting he’d been drinking too much.
But in 2018, things turned nasty. Jolie accused Pitt of not paying her ‘meaningful support’ since the split. He countered that he had actually loaned her $8 million plus $1.3 million for bills.
Custody became an obsession for them both. Jolie had primary physical custody with the children visiting Pitt according to a schedule. In 2019, Jolie told Harper’s Bazaar: ‘I would love to live abroad and will do so as soon as my children are 18.
‘Right now I’m having to base where their father chooses to live.’ Pitt was appalled.
Jolie was warned by the court to stop snooping on mobile phone contact between Pitt and the children and was warned of serious consequences if she created a distance between him and their brood. Schedules had to be co-ordinated using a specialist co-parenting app, called OurFamilyWizard.
In an interview this year with Vogue, Jolie said that she was focusing on ‘healing’ her family. She added: ‘I feel like I’m lacking in all the skills to be a traditional stay-at-home mom. I’m managing through it because the children are quite resilient, and they’re helping me, but I’m not good at it at all.’ She added: ‘These are the years they’re really growing into adults. I’m happy to be here and make sure I do the best I can.’
Last autumn, Jolie attempted to get the judge thrown off the case over an alleged conflict of interest — he has a declared professional relationship with a colleague of Pitt’s original attorney Lance Spiegel. That was unsuccessful.
In December last year, court proceedings began in Los Angeles over child custody for the five youngsters. Both sides offered lists of witnesses to call — Pitt asking for 21 and Jolie for seven. They were bodyguards, security staff, experts in child psychology and a former nanny. On March 12, Jolie, filed a memorandum to court ‘Under Seal’ meaning that it is private and cannot be viewed by the public, provocatively titled: ‘Offer of Proof and authority in support thereof re: testimony regarding domestic violence.’ Another memorandum was: ‘Re testimony of minor children.’
It’s understood that she wanted the children to testify about alleged domestic violence. But the children did not testify, and the ruling didn’t go her way.
She has now made a legal bid to disqualify Judge Ouderkirk from the divorce case. She said in a filing on Monday that the judge had ‘refused to hear the minor teenagers’ input as to their experiences, needs or wishes as to their custody fate’.
She also said that Ouderkirk had declined to hear evidence that she alleged was relevant to the children’s safety and well-being before he issued a ruling.
Peter Harvey, a former attorney general of New Jersey, says that Jolie is now campaigning over how custody issues are assessed ‘to ensure that other families do not experience what hers has endured’.
However, Pitt was soon back with a body blow of his own. His filing in response, seen in full by the Daily Mail, said the judge found Jolie’s testimony ‘lacked credibility in many important areas, and the existing custody order between the parties must be modified, per Mr Pitt’s request, in the best interests of the children’.
It said Jolie’s objections and further delays in reaching an arrangement would ‘work grave harm upon the children, who will be further denied permanence and stability’.
Ted Boutrous Jr added that she had ‘simply missed the point’ in several instances. In a statement, his legal team said: ‘Ouderkirk has conducted an extensive proceeding over the past six months in a thorough, fair manner and reached a tentative ruling and order after hearing from experts and percipient witnesses.’
A source adds: ‘She says that the kids didn’t speak in court. The point is that the kids spoke to their therapists in proper situations and settings about things. They were evaluated and this was then reported into the court. ‘There is no perfect optimal situation for something as difficult as this but they were spoken with by professionals. It is well known in the industry that you never want the kids to testify in court. That is the last thing which anyone should want.
‘You never want for that to happen. It is invariably traumatic. So when she complains that the kids were not allowed to testify, that reinforces more that the judge made a good decision about custody. ‘
The source added: ‘There have been hundreds of experts, therapists and so on and the judge has heard it all and made what is called a ‘tentative’ decision which then gets ratified.
‘All Brad ever wanted was joint custody. Brad cares tremendously about his kids and he wants the best for them. He just wants to spend as much time with them as possible.
‘The other side is doing everything possible to prevent that from happening.’
But the source cautions: ‘July is going to be important. If the judge is kept in place then the ruling stands. If the judge is not, then the ruling is vacant and we have to start all over again.’