Pitt-Jolie Divorce Brings California’s Curious Bifurcation Laws to Light

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bifurcation divorce

Few couples have disrupted Hollywood with their divorce antics in recent years like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Rumors of child abuse, infidelity, alcoholism and alienation aside, the contentious battle has brought to light a loophole in California divorce law that could lessen child trauma.


The Beginning of the End

Readers who don’t follow celebrity news might need a quick refresher on the Angelina Jolie-Brad Pitt affair. The power couple first started dating in 2005, after meeting on the set of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, in which they played opposing spies who were also spouses.

At the time, Pitt was married to Friends’ sweetheart Jennifer Aniston. Pitt divorced his first wife and went public with his relationship to Jolie, prompting rumors of infidelity and inspiring the ridiculous couple moniker, Bradjelina.

By 2012, tabloids reported relationship problems for Pitt and Jolie, who shared 6 children. Jolie adopted their oldest, Maddox, in 2002, and Zahara in 2005. Both children were adopted by Pitt in 2006. Shiloh was born to the couple in 2006. Jolie adopted Pax in 2007. Pitt adopted the boy a year later. Lastly, Jolie gave birth to twins Knox and Vivienne in 2008.

Jolie and Pitt announced their engagement in 2012 and married in 2014. Jolie filed for divorce two years later after an accusation was made against Pitt, saying he physically assaulted their son Maddox during a flight aboard their family aircraft.

Parental Alienation in the Public Eye

At the time, tabloids reported Jolie filed for divorce because of the abusive incident, but insiders said the incident was staged to allow Jolie to leave the marriage without hurting her family-friendly image. The truth might never be known. However, Los Angeles Children’s Protective Services and the FBI investigated and cleared Pitt of wrongdoing.

Since then, the couple’s divorce has been anything but healthy for the kids. Jolie has repeatedly violated the existing custody arrangements and interfered with the children seeing or even speaking to their father. In fact, in June 2018, a judge in California ordered Jolie to make the kids available for visitation or risk losing custody. Unusually, the order also demanded she call the children’s doctors and explain they were safe with their dad.

Pitt’s battles prove that all kinds of men can find themselves embroiled in turbulent custody battles. It doesn’t matter how rich, attractive, talented or dedicated you are to your family. Regardless of the circumstances, divorce can bring out the very worst in your child’s other parent.

Fortunately, the case also brings to a light a unique solution in California that might be available, in some form, in your own state.

A Unique Solution Meant to Minimize Damage

Custody issues for Jolie and Pitt could draw out until their children are adults, as could the battle over fair distribution of community property. Together, the power couple is worth roughly $400 million.

Enter bifurcation.

In California, bifurcation of the proceedings (California Rules of Court: Rule 5.390, to be specific) allows the court to grant the divorce itself – rendering each party legally single – and to then continue dealing with remaining issues, such as the financial division, property division, and child support and custody.

Primarily this is used in two situations. The first is when a married individual wants to marry someone else. Second? When parents use child-related issues to prolong a divorce. They file nuisance orders, interrupt visitation, make accuse the other parent of wrongdoing or other measures to draw out a divorce as long as possible.

Sometimes this is done by one parent to force the other to agree to an unfair settlement. Sometimes it’s done simply to try and stop a divorce, or to prolong ongoing contact with the other spouse even though it’s negative contact (this is known as “negative intimacy”). In either case, judges hope bifurcation will lessen the parents’ motivation to use kids as pawns in the divorce.

Using bifurcation in this situation wouldn’t seem to make sense given that Jolie filed first, but a legal brief filed by Pitt’s attorney criticizes Jolie’s legal team for asking for time to avoid Pitt filing for bifurcation only to file on their own in an attempt to control public opinion.

As a PR move, the strategy – if true – worked. Rumors are flying about a secret billionaire fiance waiting on Jolie’s availability vs. her ex being desperate to protect the kids from their mother’s manipulation.

Hopefully, wherever the truth lies, bifurcation will help Pitt and his children repair their disrupted relationships.

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