September 23, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Every couple of weeks, another celebrity divorce comes along to titillate the masses and humiliate the celebrities (to the extent they can be). These things are the very definition of ‘tawdry’ and, to my mind, generally to be avoided. By now we know that too-pretty people with too much money can behave as absurdly and be as shallow as the rest of us. We don’t need to learn that lesson yet again. Still, sometimes one comes along that’s worth mentioning for one reason or another.
Kelly Rutherford’s prolonged and mendacious effort to deprive her kids of their fit and loving father comes to mind, less for the details of the case as for the coverage it was given by a fawning news media that for years desperately tried to paint the erstwhile “Gossip Girl” as, in some way wronged by a California judge who’d bent over backwards to ignore her multiple wrongs in order to keep her actively involved with her children. That lengthy exercise in journalistic legerdemain was the news. That magazines as reputable as Vanity Fair entirely ignored the published findings of the family court judge for the sole purpose of representing Rutherford as a victim and her ex as a scoundrel would make a good lecture to a Journalism 101 class on what never to do as a reporter.
So, cringe-inducing as these things can be, there is sometimes a reason to report on one. With considerable trepidation and arched eyebrows, therefore, I embark on the newly-filed divorce case of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
On its face, it doesn’t look like much and I hope that’s what it proves to be. But something caught my attention and that of numerous others. Jolie of course filed the action and in it she seeks sole physical custody of the couple’s six children. That is, she wants Pitt to play essentially no role in the children’s lives in the future. As one family law expert put it here (USA Today, 9/21/16),
It suggests that Jolie believes she is the better parent to the children and she doesn't want Pitt to have a say after the divorce, says divorce lawyer Joshua Forman, a partner in Chemtob Moss and Forman in New York.
"It's saying, I want to make all the decisions for the children, I want to do what I want when I want, jet around the world, live where I want ... without Pitt getting in the way," Forman says. "When one party asks for primary custody, (it means) they don't want interaction with the other party and they don't think the other party has good decision-making processes."
Now, I’m no follower of Hollywood gossip, but my understanding is that Pitt is a fairly doting dad, fully involved in his children’s lives and never been alleged to be unfit, uncaring, abusive, etc. Indeed, Jolie herself has so described him. So why her bid for sole parenting?
Several possibilities come to mind. One is that she may have felt the need to over-demand in the hopes of bluffing him into accepting less parenting time than he otherwise would have. That seems extremely doubtful. Pitt has essentially limitless money to hire legal counsel and, in any case, doesn’t seem like the type to run away with his tail between his legs, particularly when it comes to his kids.
Another is that there may be some heretofore unseen issue with Pitt’s parenting abilities that could warrant his being sidelined in his children’s lives. That too I very much doubt. Again, the guy is too much in the news, the Hollywood press is too enamored of him to miss some juicy story about him abusing his children or some other scandal.
Of course that is exactly what Jolie is now claiming, but the very fact that she waited until she filed for divorce to ever level the charge casts considerable doubt on its veracity (TMZ, 9/22/16). Still reports say there was an “incident” on the couple’s private jet that was witnessed by people other than Jolie, so there’s probably something to this single occurrence. But no single event like drunken ranting should be sufficient to lose a man his children.
So what could it be that would cause Jolie to attempt to almost entirely remove Pitt from the lives of his children? I suppose we’ll soon know, because clearly, a breakup of two of Hollywood’s superest of superstars will be thoroughly inspected in the coming months by the likes of People Magazine, TMZ and the rest.
What I’ll be looking for, in addition to any evidence of serious misbehavior by Pitt against his kids, is whether Jolie looks like an alienator in the making. There’s been no suggestion of that so far, so my reason for wondering about parental alienation is strictly a matter of my sixth sense being stimulated. I’ve always believed that, absent serious unfitness or abuse by the parent, the attempt to sideline that parent in the children’s lives constitutes parental alienation. It should also be considered a mark against that parent when it comes to custody and parenting time orders.
So Jolie’s request for sole custody is a red flag. There are others. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about Jolie’s early life.
Jolie first attended Beverly Hills High School, where she felt isolated among the children of some of the area's affluent families because her mother survived on a more modest income. She was teased by other students, who targeted her for being extremely thin and for wearing glasses and braces. Her early attempts at modeling, at her mother's insistence, proved unsuccessful. She then transferred to Moreno High School, an alternative school, where she became a "punk outsider," wearing all-black clothing, going out moshing, and experimenting with knife play with her live-in boyfriend. She dropped out of her acting classes and aspired to become a funeral director, taking at-home courses to study embalming. At age 16, after the relationship had ended, Jolie graduated from high school and rented her own apartment, before returning to theater studies, though in 2004 she referred to this period with the observation, "I am still at heart—and always will be—just a punk kid with tattoos."
As a teenager, Jolie found it difficult to emotionally connect with other people, and as a result she self-harmed, later commenting, "For some reason, the ritual of having cut myself and feeling the pain, maybe feeling alive, feeling some kind of release, it was somehow therapeutic to me." She also struggled with insomnia and an eating disorder, and began experimenting with drugs; by age 20, she had used "just about every drug possible," particularly heroin. Jolie suffered episodes of depression and twice planned to commit suicide—at age 19 and again at 22, when she attempted to hire a hitman to kill her. When she was 24, she experienced a nervous breakdown and was admitted for 72 hours to UCLA Medical Center's psychiatric ward.
That looks like the portrait of a seriously unhappy and unstable girl. She felt isolated, self-harmed, in high school wanted to be a funeral director and studied embalming, lived away from her mother and stepfather at age 16 and had a live-in boyfriend, had an eating disorder, consumed “just about every drug possible,” suffered bouts of depression and twice attempted suicide including trying to hire a hitman to kill her, had a nervous breakdown and spent time in a psychiatric ward. That strikes me as a girl/young woman who was desperately unhappy and unable to deal very well with the world she lived in.
It’s now 17 years later, during which time Jolie has been among the most successful and well-known actresses in the world. She’s won countless awards including an Oscar for Best Actress. So what happened? What transformed her from the dangerously ill woman of 24 to what she is today? Wikipedia again:
Two years later, after adopting her first child, Jolie found stability in her life, later stating, "I knew once I committed to Maddox, I would never be self-destructive again."
That suggests that she sees her children as her lifeline to a whole self and therefore to her astonishing success as an actress. Her connection to her adopted daughter seems to have saved her, at least in her own mind, from her frightening self-destructive tendencies. Is it too much to say that Jolie sees her children as her lifesavers? If so, it’s easy to imagine the fear she may feel at the prospect of a court telling her she can’t see them 50% of the time. The prospect may look like the edge of the abyss to her.
This of course is speculation on my part, but I won’t be surprised to find that I’m not far from the mark. And, if the news coverage of their divorce is anything like I think it will be, we should know soon enough.
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