Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie just released their first joint divorce statement (and TBH, it felt weird to write that but then we remembered that 2016 was effectively the year that celebrity love died), saying in a statement obtained by People that they will be “engaging a private judge to make any necessary legal decisions and to facilitate the expeditious resolution of any remaining issues.” Considering it was Angelina alone who announced their stunning split last September, and how swift and ugly the subsequent fallout—including abuse allegations and nasty custody battling—has been, this seemingly unified front came as a surprise to many.
The joint statement comes just a few weeks after a judge denied Pitt’s request for an emergency hearing to seal all docs related to their ongoing custody battle, citing their children’s privacy and well-being as the reason behind the request. Jolie’s lawyers said nope, calling his move a “thinly-veiled attempt to shield himself, rather than the children, from the public view,” prompting more wild speculation that he must have dark, dirty secrets to hide. Pitt fired back saying that Jolie “apparently has no self-regulating mechanism to preclude sensitive information from being placed in the public record.” Phew. So why the sudden reprieve? And what exactly does it mean to “engage a private judge”? We caught up with Toronto family lawyer Laura Paris of Shulman Law to get to the bottom of the first Brangelina joint divorce statement.
According to Paris, the joint message signals that they’re ready to call a truce—at least publicly. “The fact that it has gone from her denying [his request to seal court documents] to them now agreeing that the proceedings will be sealed suggests that they’re on a path to reconciliation, in the context of divorce.” Paris describes this kind of reconciliation as “dealing with their divorce in an amicable manner.”
As far as what their “private judge” divorce will entail, the details are murky but in a nutshell, it’ll likely involve signing an agreement accepting that the judge’s decision is final and that whatever happens behind closed doors stays confidential. “We don’t have the option to ‘meet with a private judge’ in Canada, but something similar is an arbitrator or a mediator with arbitration abilities where they make a final decision,” says Paris.
Despite the former couple’s recent volleying of insults about who *actually* has the children’s best interests at heart, the decision to keep their divorce messiness (and thus the nitty-gritty of their sure-to-be dramatic custody proceedings) private is a clear message that they want to protect their children. “When there are children involved, having your family’s dirty laundry aired can have a strong emotional impact on these children, which would be in excess of the emotional impact that is just part and parcel of your parents divorcing.”
And in Paris’s view, although their small army of offspring (six, to be exact) are Brad and Angelina’s first priority, they’re likely looking to protect more than just the kids’ privacy. “I definitely think their main goal is to prevent media from exposing all their intimate details, because family law is a very intimate proceeding. Not only are you divulging information in respect to your relationship with your partner, it’s also very involved regarding finances. These aren’t things that a lot of people like to have out in the open, especially if you’re someone who is a public figure.”
Speaking of finances, opting for a private divorce resolution isn’t uncommon for couples with lots of cash to spend (and potentially lose). “I’ve found that sometimes people who have more money are more willing to spend money [and] drag these things out because it doesn’t have as much of a financial impact on them to do so. So they’ll fight to the bitter end to get what they want because money isn’t really an object.”
Looks like Brangelina, collectively worth a reported $400 million, will be doing the rest of their very high-stakes fighting behind closed doors.
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