The announcement of the sad breakdown of the relationship between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie has made headlines around the world.
Whether global superstars or a Mr and Mrs Smith couple, this is likely to be one of the most challenging times for not only them but also the children involved. At a highly charged and emotional time, it is important that the interests of the children are the main and mutual focus of both parents and that they try to put the parents’ own feelings towards each other to one side.
Having practised family law both here and Los Angeles, I can see that there are similarities to the process on both sides of “the pond”. As we have read, the divorce appears to be on the basis of “irreconcilable differences” with no requirement to complain about the other partner’s behaviour. The only way to issue divorce proceedings here, without waiting two years, is to put in black and white some form of behaviour or affair, blaming that person for the marital breakdown. How much better to avoid having to play a “blame” game and to simply acknowledge that the marriage is not working.
What is disappointing is the public nature of the divorce petition in California. Do we really need to know the ground used for the divorce and the full names and dates of birth of the children? Whilst the press here can in some circumstances report on family cases and the “decree nisi” stage of the divorce is read out in court, the process is otherwise usually private.
Prenuptial agreements appear to be more prevalent and binding in California, although they are becoming more recognised by the courts here. A prenuptial agreement can provide more reassurance for people getting married as to who gets what if the marriage ultimately breaks down. The courts in California distinguish between community property (assets acquired during the marriage) from separate assets owned before. The courts here do look at the nature of the asset but there is no formal distinction.
Common to both here and California is the availability for separating couples of mediation and the collaborative process to assist in sorting their roles as parents and arrangements for looking after the children, as well as how best to divide the property and other money issues. With specialist trained lawyers acting in a conciliatory and constructive way, both options take place entirely behind closed doors and without unwanted intrusion from the press and TV, with support where needed from family counsellors and financial experts. Let’s hope that this approach can be considered in this case and that both parents are able to sort issues in a constructive way to minimise the upset and disruption for the children, away from the LA County Courthouse.