More than four years after Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie announced their divorce, confusion abounds around the terms of their separation. A brief recap: Since 2016, Jolie has fought for sole custody of the couple’s six kids. While neither she nor Pitt has publicly shared details of the incident that catalyzed their split, it appears to have been an argument onboard their private jet, in which Jolie’s camp said Pitt became verbally and physically abusive.
In May, a drawn-out custody battle appeared to reach its conclusion when a judge awarded Pitt tentative joint custody of the couple’s minor children — but then Jolie contested the decision, reportedly arguing 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 appealed, alleging 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. Now, the custody battle continues, both over the children and the couple’s shared château. 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.
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, but Jolie appealed.
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 spoken in court, 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 in late May, 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.
Following Ouderkirk’s ruling, Pitt was cleared to “spend significantly more time with the kids,” a source told 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.”
Things looked settled, until an appeals court removed Ouderkirk.
In July, the Second District Court of Appeals delivered its verdict on Ouderkirk, siding with Jolie on the question of his impartiality. “Judge Ouderkirk’s ethical breach, considered together with the information disclosed concerning his recent professional relationships with Pitt’s counsel, might cause an objective person, aware of all the facts, reasonably to entertain a doubt as to the judge’s ability to be impartial,” read the decision. “Disqualification is required.”
Ouderkirk’s removal threatened to take Pitt and Jolie’s custody battle back to square one, and naturally, Pitt did not let the decision stand unchallenged: Earlier this month, his camp escalated the matter to the California Supreme Court, arguing that “a minor and inadvertent administrative error” had now paved the way for “parties who are losing child custody cases” to “to wait and see about the likely direction of the case before seeking the disqualification of the judge.” Also, the decision “generated widespread confusion, uncertainty, and instability,” Pitt’s attorneys stated.
Meanwhile, conflict is erupting over Château Miraval.
As the custody plot thickens, another dispute is gathering steam. In court documents filed September 21, obtained by Hollywood Life, Pitt accused Jolie of attempting to go behind his back in the sale of their $164 million French vineyard, Château Miraval. Pitt and Jolie married on the estate in 2014; it’s also where the world first learned of his brief romance with German model Nicole Poturalski last year. Anyway, Jolie has been looking to get out of the celebrity wine game for a few months now, and in July, petitioned a judge to waive the order that keeps her and Pitt from transferring assets during their divorce.
Though Pitt and Jolie each own a 50 percent stake in the company that owns Miraval, Jolie allegedly tried to broker a deal to sell the property without involving Pitt, giving him neither the option to buy her out nor refuse the sale. In a lawsuit filed in Luxembourg, Pitt’s lawyers are now accusing Jolie of “systematic obstruction” regarding the château, with a source describing Jolie to Hollywood Life as “consistently vindictive” and always “trying to circumvent the rules.”
This article has been updated.