Brangelina: It needs to end, by Marilyn Stowe

Image: Georges Biard, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie two of the world’s superstars, are estimated to have spent more than $1m each on their respective lawyers as the fallout from their spectacularly nasty 2016 split continues unabated. 

They have been fighting each other longer than they were married and the legal bills are apparently skyrocketing. It is even rumoured Jolie recently sold a Winston Churchill water colour for $11.5m, in order to finance ongoing legal fees in her ongoing bid for sole control of the six children, a case she is not going to win, according to a Californian lawyer. 

For Pitt, who unburdened in a highly apologetic interview of his fall from grace to GQ magazine in May 2017:

"It wasn't just a public-relations crisis—there was a father suddenly deprived of his kids, a husband without wife. And here he is, alone, a 53-year-old human father/former husband smack in the middle of an unravelled life, figuring out how to mend it back together."

Unfortunately he still hasn’t figured it out. Jolie battles on. It seems according to reports not only is she set to give evidence but now some of her children are prepared to do so too, amid suggestions in the media at least two wish to change their surname from Pitt and they don’t see his parents any more. 

Back in 2017 however, Jolie gave an interview to Vanity Fair and said:

"We care for each other and care about our family, and we are both working towards the same goal."

By 2020, in an interview with Vogue magazine, largely focussing on her global charity work, Ms Jolie added ominously: 

“I separated for the wellbeing of my family. It was the right decision. I continue to focus on their healing. Some have taken advantage of my silence, and the children see lies about themselves in the media, but I remind them that they know their own truth and their own minds. In fact, they are six very brave, very strong young people.”

It had begun so well for the children. In 2012 Jolie confirmed the children were ‘very happy’ when their parents finally got engaged, Pitt added, "[Marriage] seems to mean more and more to our kids". And in 2014 all six took part in their parents’ wedding in the South of France. 

So how has it come to this?

A time lapse of 5 years of litigation, focussing on the children’s healing while their estrangement from their father appears to grow, might be slightly more understandable if this couple had to spend months waiting for each court hearing, but sadly not. For the super-rich a private Judge is on hand, and he is thought to have been paid so far, close on $500k.

The always humorous James Turner QC tweeted “That “private judge” job would have been a great gig for you Marilyn :-)” and how could I disagree? I enjoy being an Arbitrator and their case, which started as it did with a virtual earthquake - following an anonymous complaint, an investigation by the LAPD and the FBI against Pitt was subsequently found to be groundless. Set piece interviews with suitable magazines have followed from both, and it looks as if this case will keep the media, lawyers and the judge profitable for years to come. 

Would I really want to arbitrate a case like that? There are plenty of ‘yes but no.’ Even with two of the world’s A list most glamorous movie stars sitting in front of me, I’m sure at some point, I would tire of them both. Because even if you’re rich enough to have a private judge at your disposal, and rich enough to keep throwing money at lawyers (and I suspect $1m each is nowhere near the true cost) after 5 years it surely has to stop, the parties have to let go, for their own wellbeing and most importantly, for the rest of the family, the children. 

It’s all very well a 5 year long need for ‘children to heal.’ That’s California speak. In my down to earth world, children take their lead from both their parents. Present a united front and most likely, they will be fine too. Remove it, both presenting themselves wholly apart, then they won’t. 

Most family lawyers know how hard it is for some litigants to let go of a burning desire for ‘justice’ because if that’s how you see it, you think others will too. It’s a mistake.

Judges are usually too experienced to accept that in the vast majority of marriages, (and I’m excluding coercive control which has its own distinct characteristics) one party is entirely a victim, the other is entirely a misbehaving predator. A Judge will be more likely to think, both are flawed, imperfect, human beings. If the couple have lived together for years in apparent harmony and the children were doing much to persuade them to marry, why can’t they get on now? 

In most cases, whether they like it or not, a Judge will do his best to resolve the issues so the children maintain relationships with both parents and each of their siblings, for the rest of their lives, their welfare being at the forefront of his mind.

Ms Jolie is clearly the most determined of women. During their relationship she had courageously faced up to her inherited cancer gene and undertaken major surgery in advance of any diagnosed cancer. She works extremely hard on the charity front helping the most deprived in the world. She leads her life entirely on the front foot. Her husband was the superstar Brad Pitt who left his fabulous movie star wife Jennifer Aniston for her. 

And that was all a heady combination, and fine for them while they were a successful couple happily living together.

Now divorced, media speculation swirls relentlessly around the couple, and from my perspective, it does neither of them any favours.  It needs to end but there is no sign that will be anytime soon. With six children, their mother publicly reminding them ‘they know their own truth’ it strikes me the case might not resolve until all the children have become adults. 

Standing back, it’s hard to overlook the money they’ve spent so far, and the damage which years of fighting must do to their children, when it could have done much more to help thousands of under privileged children on the other side of the world who desperately need water, food, medicine.

Rather than spent on lawyers and a judge who won’t supply the answers that only this couple can.


This article first appeared in Today’s Family Lawyer.