Yesterday, US actress Angelina Jolie announced that she had filed for divorce from husband and actor Brad Pitt. The couple have been in a relationship since 2005, were married in 2014 and have six children: Maddox 15, Pax 12; Zahara 11; Shiloh 10; and twins Vivienne and Knox 7.
Since the announcement, news columns have been crowded with speculation about the cause of the breakdown. Suggestions have included Pitt's parenting style, substance abuse, and allegations of an affair between Brad Pitt and French actress Marion Cotillard. The press has also been quick to return readers to the ground war that raged between fans of 'Team Aniston' and 'Team Jolie' at the start of Pitt and Jolie's relationship. While this is providing titillating gossip, it is not clear that much of it is likely to be helpful for this family.
Jolie stated that her decision had been made for "the health of the family". Pitt separately told People magazine that his focus was on the "the well-being of the children". These statements are certainly well-intentioned, but they do not appear to accord in reality with the approach taken by Jolie. Jolie has apparently already asked the US court to grant her "custody" and to grant Pitt only "visitation" rights. This approach is likely to inflame the dispute between the parties and may lead to a lengthy and gruelling custody battle over who the children live with and when they have contact with the non-resident parent. This couple appear to have shot straight to the nuclear button.
Is it possible then to focus on the well-being of children when the parents' story is all anyone is interested in? Absolutely. Even in the most acrimonious separations, it is possible for a child-centred approach to separation and divorce to be adopted from the very beginning.
Divorce ranks second only to bereavement regarding the level of stress it generates in a person's life. There is evidence which suggests that children of divorce are seven times more likely to suffer with depression and other mental health issues. However, with the right support and strategy, it is possible for the likelihood of this to be dramatically reduced.
In the Pitt-Jolie divorce, a focus on the well-being of the children is likely to be particularly important due to three of the children having been adopted. Adoption into a new family that subsequently breaks down may place particular stress on children. They may require additional support to assistance to understand what is happening to them and to deal with their particular fears and concerns.
Many people scoffed when actress Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay frontman Chris Martin announced in 2014 that they were "consciously uncoupling". This couple, however, do appear to have managed an amicable divorce (finalised in July 2016). The pair still holiday together with their children, including a trip to Disneyland for Apple's birthday in May 2016. They continue to refer to themselves as being in 'a family' but without parents who are in a romantic relationship.
A Paltrow-Martin style break-up is not going to be possible for everyone. The right representation and advice from experienced family solicitors can ensure that the best interests of the child are at the forefront of the issue. Even where court proceedings have been issued it is not too late to step-back from the nuclear button. It is still possible for your solicitor to guide you and your ex-partner through to a settlement that is right for your family and can be agreed by consent. Before going to court it is also worth considering if out-of-court options including mediation, arbitration and family therapy might be right for your family and children.