It’s been a few weeks now since the news broke that Hollywood’s best looking, if not favourite couple are no more. Angelina Jolie has filed for divorce against Brad Pitt.
The pair have been together for over ten years and married for just over two. Theirs is one of many high profile separations to come to light recently, they find themselves in the company of Zoe Ball and Norman Cook, and Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) and her husband Jose Nunes. Money really can’t buy happiness, and what is striking from a Family Law perspective is how ordinary the reality of divorce is.
If you have seen the papers the petition for divorce itself is no different from one Mrs Brown from Caerphilly may have to file. It lists the names of the parties, their address, their children and the financial issues to be resolved. Jolie lists jewellery and personal effects, earnings, property and joint assets which will form the basis of the negotiations going forward.
One advantage the American petition has over ours is that Jolie is able to simply cite ‘irreconcilable differences’ as the reason for the breakdown of the marriage. In England and Wales, the ground for divorce is the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, but in order to prove that the marriage has broken down the petition must cite one of five facts which are adultery, unreasonable behaviour, and three more grounds which rely on the parties’ on going separation for two years or more. If Mrs Brown of Caerphilly were in the same boat as Ms Jolie-Pitt, and she wanted to file for divorce immediately she would have to rely on her husband’s unreasonable behaviour and set out the particulars in her petition. The media has made much of the allegations of conflicting parenting techniques and ‘substance’ abuse between the Jolie-Pitts, but Jolie herself apparently does not wish to take these allegations any further, and that’s her prerogative.
Here, Mrs Brown would have to list her grievances and the Court would then determine if these were sufficient to prove that the marriage had irretrievably broken down as a result of Mr Brown’s behaviour. It seems wrong today that we are still having to attribute blame to one party when the reality is that relationships sometimes simply do not work. Having to blame one party can sour even the most amicable of separations, which is why it is heartening to see the ‘No-Fault’ divorce being discussed with a view to making this available here.
And what of finances? Presumably the Browns of Caerphilly will have slightly less income and capital to divide that the Jolie-Pitts but the process will be the same. In her petition, Jolie identifies the issues to be determined which is what you would do here. The advantage that the Jolie-Pitts have however, is firstly that there is enough money to go around and secondly, they can afford the legal representation to negotiate the most beneficial deal on their behalf. Our Court system is completely congested with litigants in person who are dealing with complex financial matters themselves rather than pay solicitors to do so. The result is that they are in Court for longer, arguing over the issues which are likely to be the emotive factors of their separation, rather than the pragmatic issues which will affect their financial positons post separation. But who can blame them? In any petition we name the children of the family and the assets to be divided between the parties. Unless you are legally trained and objective, you are quite rightly going to focus on the children before you look at the finances.
Therefore, as the dust settles, following the ‘bombshell’ news that Brad and Angelina are parting, I hope that they can deal with things as adults, but primarily as parents. They have plenty of money and are privileged to be able to afford to do what they like with their money once they’ve divvied it up between them. The main concern will be to ensure that they can maintain an amicable enough relationship for the sake of their children.
Elizabeth Saxby is an Associate dealing in all aspects of Family Law. Elizabeth was actually on team ‘Aniston’ in 2005.