With what some sources are calling her “smear campaign” against her estranged husband appearing to fail, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt might be willing to work together on a joint custody agreement covering their six children.
Shortly after filing for divorce in September 2016, Jolie accused Pitt of a variety of sins, from abusive behavior towards their children to anger and substance abuse issues. After extensive investigations, both the Federal Bureau of Investigation (the alleged abuse took place on a flight between Los Angeles and Paris) and the Department of Children and Family Services concluded that there was no physical abuse.
Simultaneously, Pitt consistently underwent anger management counseling, drug counseling, and anything else the court ordered without excessive argument, although his lawyers were always careful to avoid saying that their client had any such problems. As a result, according to a source close to Jolie, she may have realized that “there just weren’t any grounds for her to get sole custody of the kids.”
Based on these developments, the court has evidently ordered more frequent contact between Pitt and the children and also ordered Jolie to “stop playing games,” such as canceling planned visits at the last minute.
Joint Custody in California
Up to the late 1800s, since women had essentially no legal or economic rights, divorced fathers routinely obtained full custody of their children, because divorced mothers typically had no way to care for them. The tables turned in the early 1900s, when a rise in women’s rights coincided with the British notion of the “tender years” doctrine. Essentially, courts declared fathers to be unfit parents as a matter of law, especially if the children were younger than seven or eight.
The “tender years” doctrine persisted for much of the 20th century, and even today many states do not give fathers full visitation rights if the children are younger than one or two.
Largely because of real estate lobbyist and divorced father James Cook’s efforts, California lawmakers adopted a joint custody law in 1976, the first of its kind in the nation. The Golden State is now one of the few jurisdictions that equally divides both physical custody (where the children live) and legal custody (which parent makes important decisions). In terms of physical custody, some common models include:
2-3-2: This arrangement may be the most common one in California. The children spend Monday and Tuesday with Parent A, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday with Parent B, Saturday and Sunday with Parent A, and then the next week, the roles reverse. This schedule has several variations and judges are usually willing to accept any of them, as long as the parenting time division is roughly equal.
Extended Weekend: The children spend Tuesday through Thursday with Parent A, Friday through Monday with Parent B, and then the roles reverse the next week.
Empty Nest: Instead of the children moving back and forth between the parents’ residence, the parents move back and forth. This arrangement usually only works when the parents still get along fairly well.
As for legal custody, to avoid 1-1 ties, many divorce orders contain specific provisions. For example, rather than a generic statement like “the parents will jointly make decisions regarding the child’s moral and religious training,” the decree may stipulate that “the child shall be raised Catholic.”
Obstacles to Joint Custody
In many child custody cases, the parents themselves are obstacles to joint custody, because there is so much hurt or mistrust that they have difficulty working together on visitation schedules or custody agreements.
Unless there are either very serious verified allegations of abuse, or there is a pattern of misconduct, most judges will not cut off contact between the children and a parent, because such a move is rarely in the children’s best interests. Instead, most judges will grant supervised or limited-period visitation and order the parent to attend counseling or obtain other assistance.
To remove these restrictions, the parent must normally file a motion to modify based on changed circumstances.