Excerpt: The One Percent Divorce by Dror Bikel

The End of Brangelina

The Fall of The Ultimate Hollywood Power Couple

Celebrities make up a unique portion of America’s one percent. Not only are they very wealthy, but they must deal with extreme levels of publicity. When children are involved in celebrity divorce, the publicity issue yields even more destruction. Harsh media coverage can damage a child’s odds of ever having a healthy relationship with both parents, going forward -- the more public the divorce, the greater the potential harm.

Divorcing celebrities must also be concerned about their image. A rocky, high-profile split can ruin careers. Unfortunately, fears about their own reputation can overpower their caution about what’s best for the children. Many celebrities worry that divorce is too risky, choosing to stay in an unhealthy marriage or unsafe parenting situation rather than muddy their image.

If the court discovers a gambling problem, drug addiction, or other mental health issues, many celebs fear a guaranteed loss of child custody. A judge is going to do what’s best for the children. How could a judge ever side with an alcoholic parent? But one’s past actions don’t always govern who gets custody of the kids. Judges know people make mistakes. Everyone hits rough patches. Judges almost always encourage a child’s relationship with both parents, as long as they can both prove they are safe and capable.

Marriage dissolution is going to be daunting, especially for high-net-worth, high-profile celebs. But with smart planning and careful risk mitigation, both parties can succeed in protecting their careers and reputations while safeguarding the family relationships and privacy of the kids. If you can prioritize the children’s interests and maintain an open mind regarding your own personal growth, a successful celebrity divorce is absolutely possible.

Made in Hollywood Heaven

The Birth of Brangelina

From a celebrity divorce lawyer’s perspective, one of the most interesting high-profile divorces has to be that of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Involving two A-listers, multiple luxury properties, and a mix of six adopted and natural children, the “Brangelina” divorce contains nearly every dynamic a course on celebrity divorce could cover.

Before they crossed paths, Brad and Angelina were already incredibly wealthy and famous. Angelina was a busy single mother, one of Hollywood’s highest-paid actresses and a staunch humanitarian. By age 28, she’d adopted her first child, Maddox Chivan, from Cambodia and had already earned an Academy Award, three Golden Globes, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, an Immigration and Refugee Program Humanitarian Award, and a United Nations Correspondents Association Award.

Brad wasn’t doing too bad himself. By age 40, he’d starred in at least 20 blockbuster films, was nominated for an Academy Award, and had one Golden Globe under his belt. Both stood as two of the most influential and powerful figures in the entertainment industry.

As the story goes, Brad and Angelina met on the set of Mr. and Mrs. Smith in 2004, filming a romantic, action comedy about two assassins hired to kill each other. At the time, Brad was married to Friends actress Jennifer Aniston while Angelina was raising three-year-old Maddox after having divorced actor Billy Bob Thornton in May 2003.

The whirlwind romance took off, full of international travel, diligent philanthropy, tight film schedules, and new babies. Brad accompanied Angelina to Ethiopia when she adopted six-month-old Zahara Marley in July 2005. Maddox and Zahara changed their surname to Jolie-Pitt in early 2006.

The couple traveled to Namibia for the birth of their daughter Shiloh Nouvel in May 2006. People magazine paid a record $4.1 million1 for the rights to Shiloh’s first baby photos. Three-year-old Pax Thien joined the family from Vietnam in March 2007, followed by the birth of twins Knox Léon and Vivienne Marcheline in July 2008. This time, People upped the ante, paying a record $14 million2 for the twins’ baby photos.

Brad entered the relationship with a 5,300-square-foot Los Feliz mansion and an 11.5-acre Santa Barbara seafront property. Among Angelina’s real estate were a home in Cambodia and an apartment in New York City.3 In 2006, the couple bought a 7,000-square-foot French Quarter mansion in New Orleans. Six years later, they purchased a $60 million estate in the south of France, complete with a 35-bedroom mansion, indoor pool, helicopter-landing pads, olive groves, and a winery.

But the couple had no intention of settling down. During their pre-marriage relationship, Angelina completed at least 14 pictures, including writing, producing, and directing her 2011 film In the Land of Blood and Honey. Brad starred in and produced over 25 films during this time, winning an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for producing the 2013 film, 12 Years A Slave.

In 2014, after 10 years together, the couple finally decided to marry. The wedding took place in a chapel on their French Château Miraval estate. Brad and Angelina spent their honeymoon with the six kids on the Maltese island of Gozo, working on the set of their movie, By the Sea.

Healing Past Scars

Failed Marriages, Excess, and Broken Families

Both had already experienced their share of relationship trauma, which may partially explain why they waited 10 years to tie the knot. Angelina has had a difficult relationship with her father, Jon Voight; the two have been estranged for most of her life. In 2007, she lost her mother, Marcheline Bertrand, to ovarian cancer. Jolie and actor Jonny Lee Miller divorced after four years of marriage. Her marriage to Billy Bob Thornton lasted only three years.

Brad has admitted to having a wild past of drinking and pot smoking. “For a long time, I thought I did too much damage—drug damage,” he said in a June 2013 interview with Esquire.4 The tabloids are full of stories about Brad partying with Quentin Tarantino during the Inglorious Basterds shoot and whiskey drinking while working on By the Sea.5

Substance abuse and relationship difficulties are common among brilliant, creative people. Celebrities are no exception. These issues are nothing out of the ordinary to those outside of the one percent. But add intense media coverage into the mix, and the results can be tragic. Celebrities work hard, even paying top dollar, to hide their imperfections and protect their careers.

High-profile individuals don’t have access to the same modes of escape as most Americans. They can’t just get away with friends at the local pub. There is a small, select circle they can be around, whom they still feel they can’t trust, when it comes to sharing their problems. They must often remain confined to their own world, among their own entourage, on their own estates.

Children of celebrities live the same odd sort of life. They must be closely managed. Their play dates are highly supervised. They can’t just go home with a classmate after school. They’re never certain whether kids want to be friends because they like them or because they want to meet their parents. It’s difficult to pick up social skills among peer groups while living in several different countries throughout the year.

Of course, good celebrity parents try to create as normal a life as possible for their children. And to Brad and Angelina’s credit, they made it work for 12 years. They raised six children, kept their careers going, and maintained a family. Marrying someone else in the entertainment industry who is equally hard-working and famous, and making the relationship work for that long, is not easy.  Brad and Angelina seemed to have done an impressive job.

The End of the Fairy Tale

For the Good of the Children

While their success is undeniable, the hard work, celebrity status, constant travel, and involved parenting would eventually take its toll on any couple. Angelina filed for divorce in September 2016, citing irreconcilable differences.6 The marriage was already rocky according to media reports. The split occurred after a verbal and physical altercation between Brad and 15-year-old Maddox on a private plane traveling from Europe to Los Angeles.

Angelina reported Brad’s behavior and obtained physical custody of all six children, handling the situation appropriately by simply removing the children from the potential danger and involving the authorities. Angelina deserves credit for placing so much importance on the well-being of her children. When someone of her celebrity status puts the safety of her children above her own reputation and relationships, their values are in the right place.

Soon after the plane incident, the FBI and LA County Children and Family Services cleared Brad of any wrongdoing. Brad handled the situation in an equally professional manner. He kept a low profile, listened to authorities, admitted he had a problem, and began taking steps to become a better father. Neither party went to the media with nasty allegations or comments about the other. There was no mudslinging. Again, both parents are trying to do what is right for the children.

Courts know that when substance abuse issues lead to abnormal, potentially harmful behavior toward others, the anxiety and depression can send that person into a downward spiral, worsening the addiction. Courts also notice when a spouse with a dependency problem works hard to turn their life around so that they can become a better, more responsible family member.

To his credit, Brad has apparently done just that. Over time, he has reportedly given up alcohol and marijuana. In a telling interview with GQ Style in 2017, the actor admitted he has had a drinking problem for years. “These moments have always been a huge generator for change,” he said. “And I'm quite grateful for it...I can't remember a day since I got out of college when I wasn't boozing or had a spliff, or something...a lot of it is, um—cigarettes, you know, pacifiers. And I'm running from feelings.”7

Brad also told GQ he wasn’t always present for his children. He acknowledged that when he was working, he didn’t always listen to the children, and expressed his intention to get better at it,  “I grew up with a Father-knows-best/war mentality—the father is all-powerful, super strong—instead of really knowing the man and his own self-doubt and struggles. And it's hit me smack in the face with our divorce. For me, this period has really been about looking at my weaknesses and failures and owning my side of the street.”

This level of transparency and self-reflection is what courts want to see in a parent who wants to participate in their children’s lives. Self-reflective people understand emotional issues and tend to be good parents. Regarding any child custody issues, the court is willing to back such a person up as long as they are willing to work on themselves.

Of course, Angelina has apparently resisted this claim of change in Brad. That’s understandable too. Because from her perspective, she’s seen years of problematic behavior.  She doesn’t trust that he’s healthy or that the changes will last.

This is a very typical dynamic. One party has a history of alcoholism or drug use, and the other parent is shy of giving that parenting time with the children because they’ve seen disturbing things at home. Usually in these cases, the court will take things slow. They’ll let things play out for a year or more while under the supervision of the court system, letting the person with the dependency heal and rehabilitate, if they’re willing to do that.

No Dirty Laundry

Keeping Things Private

In January 2017, the couple released a joint statement saying they would be handling their divorce privately through mediation and private negotiations—a mature, smart move for celebrities. “The parties and their counsel have signed agreements to preserve the privacy rights of their children and family by keeping all court documents confidential and engaging a private judge to make any necessary legal decisions and to facilitate the expeditious resolution of any remaining issues,”8 the statement concluded.

This is, of course, to protect themselves, but also to protect their children from publicity.  Unfortunately, many celebrities choose to hash their disputes out in court, exposing private matters to the public in an attempt to keep themselves from looking like the bad guy. Many of these cases involve children. No child wants to read about their parent’s problems in the press. It is responsible and mature of Angelina and Brad to attempt to keep things out of the press as much as possible.

Regarding the privacy of their divorce, Brad told GQ Style, “It is a drag to have certain things dragged out in public and misconstrued. I worry about it more for my kids, being subjected to it, and their friends getting ideas from it. And of course, it's not done with any kind of delicacy or insight—it's done to sell. And so you know the most sensational sells, and that's what they'll be subjected to, and that pains me. I worry more in my current situation about the slideshow my kids have. I want to make sure it's well-balanced.”

However, in a prime example of the extreme caution required by the courts and divorce attorneys in protecting celebrity information, complete privacy didn’t last for Brad and Angelina. Court documents regarding child custody disputes were made public, including the names of the children’s therapists and other mental health professionals, violating the agreement to protect the minors’ privacy.9 When celebrities enter into divorce and hire a legal team, be certain that your team understands what it takes to protect your privacy and plans to pull out all stops to make that possible.

At the Court’s Discretion

Parenting Schedules and Custody Wars

After the plane incident, Angelina obtained physical custody of all six children. In October 2016, once the FBI and Child Services cleared Brad of any misconduct, the court limited Brad’s parenting time to five hours per week, under supervision, through January.10 This is not uncommon following allegations of potential child harm. The courts will consider people who have possible mental health or dependency issues unsafe until further investigation.

From Brad’s perspective, he was probably stunned that Angelina filed the allegations. It was likely a shock to him that he suddenly had limited access to his children. The courts initially will restrict parenting time in the face of such allegations, but if the parent yields to court instructions, reflect on their own behavior, and works to remedy the problem, the court will work fast to expand their time with the children.

Not everyone has the ability or drive to assess themselves and modify their own behavior. It isn’t easy. I’ve represented many clients suffering from dependency issues who just cannot get sober. They keep failing drug tests, and they lose parenting privileges. But if you’re willing to admit your faults and work on yourself, the court will usually be more lenient.

Because Brad is doing what the court has instructed regarding getting healthy, and has apparently maintained sobriety, the court has expanded his time with the children. When Angelina and Brad were unable to reach a child custody agreement among themselves in January, the court issued an extended parenting schedule for Brad, allowing him to text and call his children without limitation, supervision, or any interference from Angelina.

Likewise, the court doesn’t look fondly on a parent who attempts to keep the children from spending time with the other parent. Any attempt to dissuade children from having a relationship with a parent who is considered safe and responsible can result in the court acting on that. Angelina may have been interfering with calls the children received from her ex, leading to the court order for their expanded time with Brad.

The judge warned Angelina that she could lose primary custody if she didn’t allow the children to develop a healthy relationship with their father, stating, “If the minor children remain closed down to their father and depending on the circumstances surrounding this condition, it may result in a reduction of the time they spend with [Angelina] and may result in the Court ordering primary physical custody to [Brad].”11

In this case, the judge stated that the children “not having a relationship with their father is harmful to them. It is critical that each of them have a healthy and strong relationship with their father and mother.”12 The court also expanded visitation for the children under age 16 (all but Maddox), still supervised, but with time increased to four to 10 hours per day. Brad even obtained custody of the children for a full week in July. Again, the court will do what it deems best for the children.

In cases involving different parenting practices and behaviors, it can be very challenging for both parties to let go and allow the court to make the decisions regarding what is best for the children. For Angelina, letting her children go to Brad’s expanded parenting time was likely very difficult. If Brad’s drinking issues had become very serious, he might have behaved less than appropriately around the children on more than one occasion. Being celebrities, Angelina may not have wanted to share this with the court and risk it leaking to the media.

The court will decide the parenting schedule based only on the evidence before it. Anything a spouse doesn’t share won’t be taken into consideration; yet another reason celebrity parents should try to come to a decision amongst themselves. For example, if Angelina felt Brad had a drinking problem, she could have spoken with Brad outside of court and made some agreement allowing him to visit the children in her presence if he agreed to get help. This way, the court wouldn’t have allowed Brad to have unsupervised time with the children, something she may not want.

Once you hand the decision over to the court, the judge makes the rules. If the parents cannot come to an agreement themselves, the court will arrange a parenting schedule for them. The parents have no say in that schedule. It is always best to try and reach an agreement outside of court rather than leave it to the judge.

As of September 2018, the court-ordered parenting schedule for Brad and Angelina is still in effect. A family court hearing scheduled for August 21 was postponed.13 Though the couple has planned to carry out their divorce privately through mediation, if they can’t come to an agreement on custody, the case may indeed go on to trial.

In August 2018, Angelina chose to obtain a new divorce lawyer. The reason for this is unclear. Some sources claim there was tension between the actress and her lawyer, possibly arising out of the child custody disputes.14 A representative of Angelina reports that she had chosen a new attorney whose "expertise is the protection and best interest of children.”15

Switching up attorney’s mid-divorce can be done, but is best to avoid. It can be difficult for an uninformed lawyer to pick up where the last team left off. However, if you feel your lawyer is not looking out for your best interests, or not providing you with the quality of service you signed up for, it is advisable to consider new counsel. During divorce, you want to feel confident in the lawyers you are working with. Mild disagreements between lawyer and client are normal, but if things are consistently heading downhill and your divorce case is in the earlier stages, you should always feel free to explore other options.

Dividing the Empire

Income, Royalties and Real Estate

As with most high-net-worth couples, Angelina and Brad have significant marital assets to divide between them. Forbes estimates the couple has earned a combined $117.5 million since they married in 2014 (before taxes and fees). Apparently, Brad earned around $76.5 million between the wedding and separation which is twice as much as Angelina.16 Income earned during the marriage through Brad’s production company, Plan B Entertainment, will likely be considered marital property, as well as any royalty payments that come out of films made while the legal union lasted.

The couple also owns an impressive amount of real estate, including their $60 million Chateau Miraval estate in France, the $6 million New Orleans mansion, Brad’s $5 million Los Feliz home, a $4 million Santa Barbara mansion, and Angelina’s New York City apartment in the Waldorf Astoria.17 Anything purchased prior to their 2014 marriage would not be considered marital property. Angelina’s  court filings state, "there are community and quasi-community assets and obligations of the parties, the exact nature and extent of which are unknown to Petitioner [Angelina] at this time."18

They will likely try to decide among themselves how to split up the properties, each using their own appraisers to assign a value to each asset. They may choose to purchase the properties from each other or sell everything and divide up the cash. If they can’t agree on the most proper valuation or who should get what, any dispute over real estate could also go to trial.

California is a community property state, meaning all income and assets acquired during the marriage are considered marital property and will be split 50/50. Though they have been a couple since 2004, any assets earned before their 2014 wedding will still be considered sole property unless they are both listed on the title. Even then, one or the other could argue that they deserve the bulk or all of the asset. Brad or Angelina could, of course, claim that they deserve more than 50 percent for certain assets if they contributed more to that asset.

There are strong rumors that Angelina and Brad had an ironclad prenuptial agreement. Of course, a prenup would have been the smartest move when dealing with multi-million-dollar assets. It would be somewhat surprising if they didn’t have one, given their prior marriages and divorces. Because the couple had been together 10 years before marriage, they may have felt they didn’t need one because the relationship was solid. The fact that the argument in the divorce has centered around the issue of custody is a clear indicator that there may be a strong prenup, and thus, not much to argue about in terms of asset division.  

The Princely Lifestyle Challenged

Loans as Child Support

The media has recently feasted on an apparent disagreement between Angelina and Brad over child support. Angelina reportedly asked for half of the children’s expenses. Reports say that as of late 2018, Brad has paid Angelina around $9 million since their September 2016 split, $1.3 million in child support plus an $8 million loan to purchase a home in LA.19

In August 2018, Angelina submitted a court filing claiming that Brad had not been paying “meaningful” child support since their separation,20 arguing that the $8 million loan (for which he is charging her interest) is not considered child support. Angelina’s team are, at the time of writing this book, apparently scheduling a conference with the judge to address the issue.21

As with most celebrity divorce cases, any dispute released in court filings can be blown out of proportion. The media will grab at whatever sells, trying to create a quarrel out of simple legal formalities. Regarding the child support issue, a representative for Angelina told USA Today, "The aim of Angelina's routine court filing is to provide closure to the marriage in a way that clears a path toward the next stage of their lives and allows her and Brad to recommit as devoted co-parents to their children.”22

Angelina may indeed be unhappy with the loan as a form of child support, but such intra-family loans are often considered a smart financial move, allowing a divorcing spouse some level of control and transparency over the payments. Angelina may even qualify for interest deductions. As long as the loan is made in good faith—to care for the children—it can be a good strategy during divorce.

* * *

Overall, considering their massive fame and fortune, Brad and Angelina’s divorce appears to be moving in the right direction. Angelina deserves credit for protecting the children when she felt a threat had presented itself. Brad deserves credit for rehabilitating himself and working with the courts to be a part of his children’s lives. Both deserve credit for keeping their divorce as private as possible, given the intense interest and media glare.

These two beloved movie stars came into the relationship with issues, and neither is to blame for the marriage dissolution. A-list celebrities are human, with the same relationship problems as non-celebrities. Because their real-life dramas are seen through the magnifying, distorting glass of the press, they can serve as a cautionary tale for other celebs and simple mortals alike.

There are many things we can learn from Brad and Angelina’s rocky divorce. The first is that no matter how intense the love and how seemingly unbreakable the bond, things can go awry, and you have to be prepared for that possibility. Angelina knew about Brad’s past problems with substance abuse, and she may not have been emphatic enough in demanding he get treatment. Of course, she is not the one to blame, but looking at the issue from her perspective, she might have been more cold-headed and protected her children better. On the other hand, Pitt should have known that such a strong woman and devoted mother would not tolerate his misbehavior, and he should have, of course, sought treatment of his own accord.

Getting a prenup in a state, like most in the U.S., with no common law marriage after 10 years of relationship is certainly a smart move, which Brad and Angelina presumably implemented. With the merging of assets that can occur during a decade of living and parenting together, it is important to establish clear rules as to what belongs to whom before everything falls into the marital property bag.             

We can also learn from the former couple’s mistakes. For example, Angelina’s excessive zeal in trying to protect the children from what she considered Brad’s bad influence, may have worked against her interest in court. On the other hand, Brad’s efforts to take responsibility for his actions and keep a low profile helped his case. In fact, it is rumored that he got treatment for his alcohol problem, as he spent some time out of both movie sets and celeb society.

The most remarkable aspect of the divorce is how hard they both tried to preserve the children from the media frenzy that followed. If we compare this to Trump and Ivana’s or Trump and Marla’s divorces, we can certainly see that the PR was handled more wisely, albeit with some unfortunate leaks.

Ultimately, both former spouses seem to be prioritizing their children. This bodes well for how the divorce will eventually resolve, and how the children will relate to their parents as adults and deal with their own future relationships. With a solid legal team that understands the unique demands of a high-net-worth, high-profile divorce, Jolie and Pitt have shown us that celebrities can get through a divorce in a relatively private manner, protecting their reputations, children, and financial futures.

End of Excerpt


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