More than four years after Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie announced their divorce, a ruling has been made on one central issue: Earlier this month, a judge awarded Pitt tentative joint custody of the couple’s minor children. The decision comes after a months-long trial involving what one source described to “Page Six” as a “fuck-ton of witnesses, experts, therapists, and other people who have been with the kids and around them.”
Since Jolie filed for divorce, she has fought for sole custody of their six kids. While neither she nor Pitt has publicly shared details about the catalyzing incident behind their split, it appears to have been an argument onboard their private jet in 2016, in which Jolie’s camp said Pitt became verbally and physically abusive. Investigations cleared the actor of wrongdoing, but in court filings from May 24, Jolie reportedly said the judge “failed to adequately consider” a portion of California code addressing custody and domestic violence. (Presumably, the section that says awarding custody to “a person who has perpetrated domestic violence is detrimental to the best interest of the child.”) She is appealing the decision, arguing that the judge “denied [her] a fair trial, improperly excluding her evidence relevant to the children’s health, safety, and welfare, evidence critical to making her case,” according to Us Weekly.
There is, as you can see, a lot of information to digest here. Are you ready? Let’s dive in.
Jolie filed for divorce in September 2016.
When Jolie filed for divorce from Pitt in September 2016, effectively ending their 12-year relationship and two years of marriage, she requested sole custody over their kids: Maddox (now 19), Pax (now 17), Zahara (now 16), Shiloh (now 14), and twins Knox and Vivienne (now 12). Jolie cited “irreconcilable differences,” and from the first, the tabloid sources had a lot to say. To quote TMZ’s report from the time, Jolie’s people said she “became ‘fed up’ with Brad’s consumption of weed and possibly alcohol, and mixed with what she believes is ‘an anger problem’ … felt it became dangerous for the children.” Pitt’s camp immediately denied the allegations, telling the website that “he’s a loving and devoted father who has never and would never put his children in any dangerous situation.” Pitt also released a statement directly to People: “I am very saddened by this, but what matters most now is the well-being of our kids.”
Then came reports of child-abuse investigations.
Within days, headlines about the divorce — a true tabloid bombshell — shifted focus to reports that both the FBI and the Los Angeles Department of Child and Family Services were investigating Pitt for child abuse, over an alleged incident said to have taken place on the family’s private jet. Acknowledging that “the details of precisely what happened” were “murky,” TMZ reported that, on a flight back to the U.S. from France, Pitt and Jolie allegedly “began arguing and Maddox jumped up to verbally defend his mom.” The tabloid went on: “We’re told Brad then lunged at the boy and Angelina jumped in between them to block her husband. Brad connected in some fashion with his son.” Maddox would’ve been 15 at the time.
Pitt’s corner described the situation differently to People. He “was drunk,” a source granted, “and there was an argument between him and Angelina.” Although “there was a parent-child argument which was not handled in the right way and escalated more than it should have,” this person explained, Pitt was nonetheless “emphatic that it did not reach the level of physical abuse, that no one was physically harmed. He did not hit his child in the face in any way … He put his hands on him, yes, because the confrontation was spiraling out of control.” Another source described the abuse allegations to People as “a combination of exaggerations and lies,” but in the midst of this tabloid war, a judge granted Jolie full custody for three weeks.
But the investigations ultimately cleared Pitt.
More information about the incident reportedly surfaced in October, extending the FBI’s inquest, which reportedly involved interviews with Jolie and her kids. Meanwhile, Pitt continued to seek joint custody, much to Jolie’s apparent chagrin. And then, in November, both the DCFS and the FBI said their investigations failed to find evidence that Pitt had been abusive on the plane or in general. In December, Pitt filed a motion to seal all custody-related documents in the case, contending that airing the details in public caused the children “needless pain.” A judge denied his request, but in January 2017, the couple reportedly agreed to settle the whole matter privately going forward.
And for a while, that was it: In May, he spoke to GQ about quitting drinking (he apparently went to rehab post-divorce) and getting a handle on his emotions in order to do better by the kids, while Jolie remained tight-lipped about the entire situation. Despite some reports of rockiness in August 2018 — Jolie parted ways with celebrity divorce attorney Laura Wasser; her and Pitt’s respective sources began a heated back-and-forth about child-support payments — the pair reportedly called a “truce” that September. In spring of 2019, they bifurcated their marriage and became legally single. By May 2020, they had allegedly achieved “cordial terms.”
But then Jolie requested that the judge in their custody case be disqualified.
In August 2020, Jolie reportedly sought to have Judge John W. Ouderkirk removed from the case, which he had overseen since 2017. In court filings, Jolie’s attorney argued that Ouderkirk “failed to disclose” certain “ongoing business and professional relationships” he allegedly had with Pitt’s attorney. The couple hired Ouderkirk — who reportedly officiated their wedding — to handle the case, with an eye toward keeping proceedings as private as possible. Yet in the filing, Jolie’s team said that “under California law disqualification is required so long as a person aware of the facts ‘might reasonably entertain a doubt’ about Judge Ouderkirk’s ability to remain impartial.” Her request was denied.
The judge reportedly declined to let the children testify, and awarded Pitt tentative joint custody.
This past March, Jolie reportedly filed documents saying she has “proof and authority in support” of her child-abuse allegations against Pitt, and asked that the minors be allowed to testify. Maddox, it then emerged, had already testified, and according to Us Weekly’s sources, “it wasn’t very flattering toward Brad.” In any case, Ouderkirk again denied Jolie’s request: According to the documents she filed this week, he “refused to hear the minor teenagers’ input as to their experiences, needs, or wishes as to their custody fate,” even though a section of California code reportedly allows children 14 and over to give testimony if they choose to.
For now, Pitt gets to “spend significantly more time with the kids,” a source tells People, adding that the custody trial involved “witnesses, experts, people who have been with the kids. The children’s voices were heard, but they just didn’t testify themselves.” Meanwhile, a source allegedly close to Jolie said that “joint custody is not the issue that Angelina objects to, there were other issues of concern, but the court proceedings are closed and sealed.”