After 12 years and six kids together, Angelina Jolie files for divorce from Brad Pitt just after their two-year wedding anniversary. Subscribe now for the real story behind the split, only in PEOPLE.
As the two sides try to reach an agreement behind closed doors and find a way to move forward, it’s clear one of the biggest issues – and likely the most difficult to resolve – is the custody of their six children.
When Jolie, 41, filed for divorce from Pitt, 52, she requested joint legal custody but primary physical custody, with visitation for Pitt. Meanwhile, Pitt sources have said he will push for shared physical custody of their kids: 15-year-old Maddox (with whom Pitt had an alleged physical altercation), Pax, 12, Zahara, 11, Shiloh, 10, and 8-year-old twins Knox and Vivienne.
Any custody agreement they reach will have to be signed off on by a judge to make sure it’s in the best interests of the children. “If Angelina and Brad reach an agreement on custody, the judge assigned to the case will be delighted that these parents were able to work out something that they can live with and that makes sense for the family,” says certified family law specialist Stephanie Blum, of Reuben Raucher & Blum, who’s not involved with the case.
In private negotiations or in court, Jolie could have a difficult time gaining sole physical custody, legal experts say.
“It is extremely difficult to be granted sole custody in a California court, absent some egregious behavior that directly impacts the best interest of the minor children,” says L.A. family law attorney Atousa Saei. “In my experience, courts [and judges] lean more towards joint physical custody over sole physical custody. They want to see both parents involved in the children’s lives and want both parents to have frequent and continuing contact with the children.”
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If a case winds up in front of a judge, a parent wanting sole physical custody would need to show considerable evidence that the other parent has problems caring for the children.
“If Angelina can prove to the court that she is the parent that has historically been the caretaker of the children and that allowing Brad to share the children with Angelina on an equal basis would actually not be in the best interest of the children, she will have a good shot at being awarded physical custody of the children,” Saei says. “Her allegations must not only be substantiated by evidence, but they also need to be linked to the best interest of the children. By way of example, if Brad got angry in front of the children, that is very different than if he only got angry with Angelina behind closed doors.”
FLASHBACK: Brad and Angelina at the 2012 Golden Globes
A source has acknowledged Pitt was drunk during the argument on the couple’s private plane that is now being investigated by L.A.’s Department of Children and Family Services, but has said Pitt did not hit or physically abuse Maddox.
As for the drinking allegation, in any bid for sole physical custody, Jolie would have to show that any substance use “has an impact on Brad’s ability to care for the children,” says Saei. “Judges are much more lenient these days on the use of alcohol, as long as a parent is not under the influence while children are in their care. Courts want both parents in the lives of children, so long as it is in the best interest of the children.”