We may not be math teachers, but by our arithmetic, combining the ages of Brad and Angelina’s interracial flock of seagulls totals 64. And if these two stars were trying to settle custody over one sexagenarian, that would be...like...way easier than their current situation.
When you’re negotiating the future of half a dozen different dependents, legal proceedings become significantly more complex. Even when their names and nationalities aren’t as convoluted as Pax, Knox and Maddox.
So, even though they never asked us, we’ve got some legal counsel for Mr. Pitt and Ms. Jolie regarding four things every parent needs to consider before slogging through a custody dispute.
Step #1: What type of custody would you like with that divorce?
The relationship has soured, and these celebrity multimillionaires have decided to split the french chateau and matching jet skis; how do they plan to raise the three humans they spawned and the three nabbed abroad?
Well, People Magazine’s ‘95 Sexiest Man Alive is begging for what more serious lawyers than ourselves term “joint custody.” We at Buckingham, LaGrandeur, & Williams prefer to call it “splitsies.” Under this structure, legal guardians agree to share as much of the child rearing as possible, everything from who gets escargot in their lunchboxes to divvying up day-to-day care of the children.
Unfortunately, Ms. Tomb Raider isn’t intent on sharing, and is instead seeking “sole custody.” She worked hard to lure those children into her private jet with the promise of candy, and she has no intentions of surrendering any custody rights to her former beau.
Step #2: Who wakes the kids up for school vs. who chooses their polo instructor
Because our profession dictates the use of Latin phrases and the ownership of leather-bound books that smell of the 1800s, it’s a tad more complicated than choosing between sole and joint custody. There are also distinctions to be made between physical and legal custody.
Physical custody decides where the child is raised, and legal custody commands how the child is raised. For example, People Magazine’s ‘00 Sexiest Man Alive (yup, twice in one decade) might agree to limited visitation rights if he retains input on decisions such as what kind of medical care the children receive, and which reality TV shows they appear in.
Obviously, each child will receive unique considerations, and it’s entirely possible the arrangement for Zahara is totally different from the one put in place for Vivienne. And if the prospect of six separate custody battles isn’t an effective contraceptive, you might be beyond our help.
Step #3: Deciding by rock, paper, scissors vs. a man in a robe
But before you start sewing “Sole Physical/Joint Legal” onto your children’s backpacks to keep it all straight, you need to sit down with your once-beloved spouse and agree how these decisions will be finalized. If you believe you can come to a consensus without the involvement of a judge, all you need are a couple attorneys and a mediator.
If you can’t come to an agreement, however, you can follow in Brad and Angelina’s footsteps and summon the help of a judge. Both of them have decided to submit to the final decision of the court, regardless of the procedures, principles, and considerations deemed relevant to their case, like an episode of Judge Judy: Celebrity Edition.
Step #4: Give the kids some say
Most parents spend most of their time telling kids they can’t have what they want. “No Maddox, you can’t bring your racehorse to show-and-tell,” and “Zahara, we’ve already told you not to wear your Gucci flip flops to Ibiza,” may be tired phrases in the Jolie-Pitt household, but letting the little ones make requests oftentimes proves pivotal to the longevity of a custody agreement.
These arguments don’t always begin and end in the courtroom, and what seems like a win today may turn out to be a loss years down the road. If ten-year-old Shiloh wants to visit a Tarantino movie set with dad, you might want to consider it, no matter how crazy it seems. Concessions to the children or your spouse during legal negotiations could save you money, and stress, should your ex ever attempt to reopen the negotiations in the future.
Whether it’s money, pride, or privacy, there are plenty of arguments for leaving lawyers out of a custody dispute. But based on our extensive legal expertise, those arguments are pretty weak. Take, for example, the uncontrollable rage some exes feel any time they face each other -- that might make a fair negotiation impossible, absent an impartial mediator.
A custody battle is closer to a boxing match than an afternoon throwing water balloons in the front yard. Two people trading blows that will leave lasting marks on the family landscape. Don’t bring a water gun to a fistfight, bring a lawyer; we’re far more useful.