A PASSIONATE beginning and millions in wealth could not save the sexiest man and woman alive from the need for Family Dispute Resolution.
After an 11-year relationship sparked by an on-set romance, the bitter divorce proceedings of former Hollywood power couple, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, are set to rage longer than their two year marriage.
Armed to the teeth with attorneys, both parents are locked a vicious dispute over the custody of children Maddox, 17, Pax, 14, Zahara, 13, Shiloh, 12, and twins Knox and Vivienne, 10.
Studies show unresolved parental conflict is toxic to children, and any actions buffering children against self-blame and adult trauma are essential for their wellbeing. So, what can be done to help?
Let’s consider the dispute so far:
Angelina filed for divorce in the Superior Court of California in November 2016, seeking sole physical custody of the children with Brad being granted visitation rights. Brad sought joint custody.
Angelina currently has primary physical custody of the children.
It was reported that at the time of filing Angelina maintained Brad was ‘unfit’ to parent and had drinking and anger management problems, thus he was a risk to the children
Around this time child abuse allegations surfaced against Brad.
He was accused of being physically and verbally abusive towards his eldest son Maddox during an incident on their private plane.
This resulted in multiple investigations, including by the FBI and the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.
Brad was cleared of the allegations thus paving the way for joint custody to be granted by the Court.
According to media reports, Angelina accused Brad of not paying ‘meaningful child support’ since she filed for divorce but Brad’s legal team allege that he has paid more than $1.3 million in costs and loaned $8 million to Angelina to help her buy a house.
Both legal teams traded blows through the press over child support issues with Angelina maintaining that Brad is not paying 50% of the children’s expenses and thus is a “deadbeat dad”.
It has been reported that earlier this year Angelina was reprimanded by the Judge handling the case for not doing enough to encourage Brad’s relationship with the children. She was warned that if the situation did not improve she risked losing physical custody of the children.
It was reported a court order issued in June 2018 required Angelina to tell the children the “court has determined that not having a relationship with their father is harmful to them,” that they are “safe with their father” “and that having a healthy relationship with both parents is critical”.
Interim orders have been published in the media, outlining a shared custody arrangement between Angelina and Brad for the summer and granting Brad unrestricted phone access to the children which requires Angelina to:
- Give Brad the mobile phone numbers for the children (which he does not have)
- Preventing her from reading the texts the children send to Brad
- Banning her from being present or interfering with Brad’s time with the children
- Only allowing her to call the children once a day when with their father
Are Brad and Angelia different to any other separating couple in society?
No they are not, apart from their millions of dollars and celebrity status.
They are two individuals dealing with the raw emotion of separation who have become entirely consumed in a personal battle over who is the better parent without realising the impact their behaviour is having on their children.
Research shows 40% of children involved in high conflict separations develop behavioural problems.
The children of high conflict separations experience higher levels of depressed mood, greater incidences of anxiety disorders, disruptive behaviours, suffer poorer coping abilities and maladjustment issues.
High conflict separations have been associated with:
- Anxiety and aggressiveness in pre-schoolers
- Aggressive behaviour problems, depression and anxiety in school aged children
- Higher levels of antisocial behaviour, lower grades, anxiety and social isolation in adolescents
Family Dispute Resolution Mediation – A Better Way of Resolving Parenting Disputes
In Australia, separating parents must participate in Family Dispute Resolution before they can apply to the court for parenting orders (Section 60I of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) (“the Act”)).
Family Dispute Resolution contemplated by the Act is ordinarily mediation between the parents where a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (“FDRP”) assists the parties to communicate with each other to reach a mutually acceptable agreement for the benefit of all concerned, but in particular the children.
The mediation is confidential, within the limits of the law, which means that what is discussed by parents during the mediation process cannot be disclosed to a Court at a later date if mediation is unsuccessful.
This allows parents to have frank discussions about issues in dispute.
Mediation gives parents greater control and management over the resolution process and the outcome of their dispute.
This process allows parents to develop more flexible care arrangements for their children compared to what a Court would order if the matter were litigated.
Children can be involved in the mediation process.
Child Inclusive Mediation allows the voices of the children concerned to be heard in the process.
This mediation is suitable for school aged children and operates in the same way as conventional mediation except children will talk with a Child Consultant during the process about the separation, care and contact arrangements.
The Child Consultant then provides feedback and recommendations to parents to assist their negotiations.
The involvement of the children in this way can assist in keeping the best interests of the children at the forefront of the mediation and to focus the parents on what the children want (not what the parents believe they want).
If parents reach agreement at mediation then normally the FDRP will prepare a Parenting Plan for the parents to sign recording the care arrangements for the children.
The Parenting Plan is not binding and therefore is not a legally enforceable agreement.
Parents can however convert the terms of their Parenting Plan into binding Court Orders by filing an Application for Consent Orders with the Family Court of Australia.
Not all matters are suitable for Family Dispute Resolution mediation and require Court intervention.
Parents may not be required to participate in Family Dispute Resolution mediation if their situation falls within an exception under Section 60I(9) of the Act.
However for many separating parents mediation is a more productive way of resolving parenting disputes, not only for the children involved, but for the longer term co-parenting relationship.
 Larry M Friedberg, High Conflict Divorce.
 Jennifer McIntosh, Susie Burke, Nicole Dour and Heather Gridley, Parenting after Separation – A Position Statement prepared for The Australian Psychological Society (July 2009); Australian Psychological Society, Child Wellbeing After Parental Separation (July 2018) www.psychology.org.au.
 Larry M Friedberg, High Conflict Divorce.
Hayley Condon is a Senior Associate with Attwood Marshall Lawyers. She has practiced in family law for over 16 years. Hayley is a member of the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia and Family Law Practitioners Association.