Following the news that Angelina Jolie has filed for divorce from Brad Pitt due to irreconcilable differences, the case raises some of the most fundamental questions in divorce settlements where children are involved.
In this instance, there are a total of six children to be considered – Shiloh, Knox and Vivienne are all the biological children of both Angelina and Brad, while Maddox, Zahara and Pax are all adopted.
Significantly, while Jolie initially was the only legally named adoptive parent to Maddox and Zahara, this changed later when Brad adopted them, meaning he is now also legally the parent of all six children.
A further complication arises from Angelina’s initial claims that Brad had been violent towards one of the children during a private jet flight, although the FBI decided there was no case to investigate there.
Whatever the circumstances, Brad is quoted as saying that he is more concerned about the wellbeing of the children than anything else in the process, and the pair have reportedly agreed visitation rights, after Jolie initially wanted sole physical custody.
The complex web of different claims, circumstances and accusations is typical of divorce settlements where children are involved, especially where there is disagreement over custody rights.
But it is worth pointing out that, as both Jolie and Pitt legally adopted three of the children, and are both the biological parents of the other three, in principle their legal rights are the same on all six counts.
Family mediation services can help to smooth over heated discussions – even keeping the divorcing parties in separate rooms if necessary, with the mediator acting as a go-between to facilitate progress.
The greater the number of children affected, and the more complex the legal arrangements surrounding their guardianship, the more difficult it can be to make this progress without the calm head of a family mediator involved.
In the UK, mediation services are now a mandatory precursor to any court action anyway – and if you can reach an amicable arrangement via family mediation, your divorce settlement can be finalised faster and at lower cost, with minimal distress and disruption to your children.
This is of course important for biological children, but can be especially crucial for adoptive children; while their legal status may be the same, in many cases they have already experienced a turbulent home life, and it is even more important to make finalised arrangements quickly to avoid unnecessary distress.