We have been following the Pitt vs. Jolie divorce, and the decision is in. According to an article published in the U.S. Sun, Brad Pitt successfully modified the previous custody order and won joint custody of his six children. Pitt was quoted as describing the litigation as a nightmare and is happy it is behind him. Now Pitt is looking forward to a new start.
The decision comes after years of contentious litigation, which began in 2016.
Jolie was not as happy with Judge Ouderkirk’s decision to grant joint custody to the parties. We previously commented on the ultimate Hollywood’s power couple’s decision to tap Judge Ouderkirk as a private judge, who presided over their marriage. Jolie had filed a motion to remove Judge Ouderkirk for allegedly failing to disclose a conflict of interest which was denied.
Jolie had alleged that Pitt had abused their son Maddox on a private jet when he was 15. The judge did not find her allegations credible. As is the usual case in child custody cases, the judge heard from expert witnesses, who interviewed the children, therapists, and family members.
Pitt was ecstatic with the ruling. In a lengthy written ruling, Judge Ouderkirk found that the requested modification of the existing custody order was in the best interests of the children. In his ruling, the judge found Jolie’s testimony lacked credibility in many important areas.
It is reported that Jolie is upset that her children were not allowed to testify, and she is renewing her motion to disqualify Judge Ouderkirk.
Why is this important? For better or worse high profile cases like this may evidence some national trends in divorce litigation.
1. Private Judges
It appears that at some point, Jolie developed buyer’s remorse concerning Judge Ouderkirk. On the other hand, knowing that Jolie was unlikely to get her desired result, her attorneys might have begun to build the groundwork for her very limited right to appeal. Since she has renewed her motion, we can look forward to her appeal on those limited grounds. Time will tell whether this case will cause some to question the wisdom of utilizing private judges.
Both parties had a positive relationship with the judge. Can we speculate as to where she lost her credibility? Perhaps it began when she took the position that Pitt was an abusive parent to the extent that it would be in their best interests to have no contact with their father. The harm to children without fathers is well documented and well-publicized. Many states, including Florida, no longer use traditional legal custodial language such as joint custody and sole custody, legal and physical custody. Instead, the divorce laws have changed the nomenclature to one of shared responsibility. The courts don’t want to see a knock-down, drag-out fight over children as though they are personal possessions. The court desperately desires that parents work things out for and in the best interests of the children. Before you take an extreme position such as sole custody has become, make sure you have the facts to back it up. If you don’t, your credibility will surely suffer.
Did Jolie’s desire to have her children testify color the judge’s credibility finding? There can be no doubt that a person with her resources must have learned through her experts, therapists, and sitting through testimony about the importance of fathers in their children’s lives. Certainly, her legal team must have given her the” odds” of succeeding. However, Jolie’s reported anger concerning the judge’s denial of her request for their testimony is highly telling.
Judges abhor having children being involved in the divorce, never mind testify at the proceedings. Judges routinely assign Guardian Ad Litems to speak with children and write reports to avoid such testimony. Therapists and social workers often testify. The general rule is that if there is any way to avoid exposing children to litigation, do it. In the rare case where such testimony is necessary, Judges will interview children in chambers, recorded or videotaped, after the parties submit and exchange written questions and all objections are heard. (We’re referring to civil cases). A judge could very well consider the risk of harm to children that Jolie’s request entailed. Her insistence and lack of understanding might demonstrate a more selfish or shortsighted motivation, rather than the bests interests of her children. A judge could see her attempting to recruit her children in the divorce, a huge red flag. It is certainly possible that the judge was influenced by her request that the children testify.
We can expect to hear from Pitt vs. Jolie again. If you have any questions concerning divorce, contact us.
With over 30 years of combined experience, Jason Brodie Esq. and Joshua Friedman Esq. will guide you toward realistic goals and provide committed advocacy toward achieving them. They are known throughout South Florida for dedicated client service, tenacity, and success in complex divorce litigation involving property division, child custody, and spousal support.
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