The Brangelina Divorce: A Case Study Under Illinois Law

2016 was a year of harsh celebrity breakups, Taylor Swift and Calvin Harris, Lady Gaga and Taylor Kinney, Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, and Drake and Rihanna all broke up within the past year. Perhaps the most heartbreaking of these unhappy endings is Angelina Jolie’s filing for divorce against Brad Pitt in September after a fourteen-year relationship with only a two-year marriage.

A union such as Brangelina’s raises several legal issues: child custody, child support, maintenance (also known as “alimony” or “spousal support”), and property division. We will be analyzing the Brangelina Divorce under Illinois Divorce Law.

Child Custody

Jolie entered the relationship with her adopted son, Maddox. During the dating relationship, Jolie adopted two more children, Zahara and Pax, filing as a single mother. Pitt later adopted the three children, making all three the joint children of Jolie and Pitt. Jolie and Pitt also have three biological children together: Shiloh, Knox, and Vivienne. Jolie filed for divorce in California in September 2016, seeking sole custody of the six children. Pitt filed his answer in the matter in November 2016, seeking joint custody. The couple’s split is swirling with rumors that Pitt cheated on Jolie, abused Maddox, and that Pitt is an alcoholic. The California Department of Child and Family Services has not commented on whether the allegations of abuse are valid or if an investigation is ongoing. Jolie is currently living with all six children in a rented home in Florida, with Brad having limited, monitored parenting time, pursuant to a temporary agreement between the parties.

Had Jolie filed for divorce in Illinois, rather than in California, the parties’ argument over custody would be vastly different. Effective January 1, 2016, Illinois no longer has “child custody” but rather has parenting time allocated to the parents, including dividing parenting responsibility and decision-making power between the parents. Jolie would have to file for sole decision-making power and majority parenting time with Pitt having supervised, restricted parenting time. Pitt likely would request equal parenting responsibility, decision-making power, and parenting time, with his parenting time including overnights and being unsupervised. Should a DCFS investigation actually be ongoing, Pitt would likely be granted supervised parenting time on a temporary basis pending the outcome of the investigation.

Should the investigation be closed out as “unfounded”, Pitt would likely be granted equal decision-making power over the children’s education, extracurricular activities, medical decisions, and religious upbringing. It is unlikely that Pitt would be granted majority parenting time, as the children have been living with Jolie since the split; however, he may be awarded nearly equal parenting time, depending on the court’s findings of the best interests of the children. The court would likely enter a temporary order maintaining the status quo or living with Jolie. Pursuant to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, Jolie and Pitt would be referred to mediation to attempt to come to an agreement regarding a parenting time schedule, with the issue potentially going to trial should no agreement be reached through mediation.

Child Support

Illinois currently awards child support based on the number of children, regardless of the income of the parents or how much parenting time the parent without majority parenting time exercises. The law does not differentiate between biological and adopted children. Because the couple has six children together, Pitt would have a child support obligation of fifty percent (50%) of his net income (after taxes have been taken out). Had Pitt not adopted Maddox, Zahara, and Pax, he would only pay child support for the biological children, as there is no obligation to support a spouse’s children from any previous relationship. Because acting is an unstable career, with some months likely earning multimillion dollars for Pitt and others having potentially no income, the Court would likely find an average income based on Pitt’s yearly earnings and award a child support obligation that remained the same on a monthly basis.

Beginning in July 2017, Illinois may enact a new standard, measuring the income of the parent with minority parenting time against the income with the income of the parent with majority parenting time, and reducing child support for parents who meet a threshold for parenting time. Should this new standard be enacted, Pitt may be able to have his child support stopped due to Jolie’s equally high income and net worth, especially should Pitt be awarded substantial parenting time.

Maintenance (i.e. Alimony/Spousal Support)

Both Jolie and Pitt are currently working in the film industry, with Pitt continuing his acting career, and Jolie making headway as a director, although reports have stated that Jolie has suspended all projects to spend time with the children. As such, Jolie is currently without income, despite the high standard of living established during the relationship.

Effective January 1, 2016, Illinois no longer awards maintenance to allow a spouse to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage. Instead, Illinois now will only award maintenance to a spouse who can show that he or she is in need and that he or she depended on the income of the other spouse during the marriage. The amount and length of maintenance ordered will depend on the income of the payor spouse as well as the length of the marriage.

Neither party would likely receive maintenance in Illinois. The court will not look to the length of the overall relationship, solely the length of the marriage. For a two-year marriage, such as this one, an award of maintenance is unlikely, as the court would likely find that the parties were not together long enough to depend on each other financially. Further, due to the net worth of both of the parties, the court is unlikely to find either party to be “in need”, even if one party has a current income substantially higher than the other.

Property Distribution

Jolie and Pitt each entered their relationship as homeowners, Jolie having purchased a home in Cambodia in 2003 and Pitt having owned a mansion in Florida mansion beginning in 2005 when the couple began dating. The couple have also bought a villa in France in 2008, a mansion in Louisiana in 2007, and an apartment in New York in 2007. Jolie has kept her Cambodian home, while Brand has since sold his Florida mansion. The couple has also sold their New Orleans mansion since their split for $4.9 million.

Assuming that Jolie and Pitt did not place each other on the deed to their homes in Cambodia and Florida, each home is the exclusive premarital property of the party who initially purchased it. This means that Jolie would receive exclusive possession of the home in Cambodia, without owing anything to Pitt and without Pitt owing on any associated debts. Pitt would also be awarded the full proceeds of the sale of his Florida mansion, without owing any proceeds to Jolie, and without Jolie owing on any associated debts or fees.

With regards to the homes in France, Louisiana, and New York, if only one party put their name on each home, the property would likely be awarded only to the party whose name was on the deed, as each home was purchased before the marriage. An exception to this rule would be a home purchased in contemplation of marriage, but this theory does not fit, as the couple had repeatedly stated throughout their dating relationship that they had no plans to marry.

If both parties’ names were on the deeds to the homes in France, Louisiana, and New York, the court would likely find that the homes were joint property of the parties, and order an equitable division of the property. Seeing as the Louisiana home has since been sold, the court would likely divide the proceeds of the sale between Jolie and Pitt. The two remaining homes may each then be granted to either party or sold with the profits being divided, depending on the parties’ desires and ability to agree. If the parties could not agree on who should keep each home, the court would likely order the homes sold.

Finally, Pitt would receive nothing from the home currently rented by Jolie, as Jolie has no ownership interest in the home. Pitt likely would likely not be liable for any costs associated with the rented home, as the lease would have been entered by Jolie alone, without benefit to Pitt.

If you have a case with the issues of parenting time, child support, allocation of marital property and/or maintenance (spousal support), call Kiswani Law, P.C. at 708-210-9247.