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Brangelina: What If They Divorced in Massachusetts?

I can’t imagine you’ve listened to the news or radio over the past week without having heard something about the pending divorce of Brad Pitt and Angelia Jolie.  The two separated recently and Jolie filed for divorce.  It’s become a nasty case with all sorts of allegations. This gives me a perfect opportunity to talk with you about the divorce process. Brangelina: What If They Divorced in Massachusetts?

What happens now that she has filed for divorce?

When a Complaint for Divorce is filed, the Court will assigned a docket number and issue a summons.  Brad will be served the documents, either by a sheriff delivering them to him or by his attorney obtaining the documents from Angelina’s attorney and having him sign off that he received them (“accepting service.”).   In this case, you can rest assured they are both represented by attorneys.  He can then file his answer and/or his counterclaim.

What happens after he responds?

Here’s where a divorce case can take several different paths.  After the original pleadings are all filed, the case can branch out in many different directions.  A party may seek temporary orders.  A party may request the other to attend a four way conference or mediation.

The first step in any case is to determine the custody and financial issues in the case for the period during the time that the case is pending.  Who will have primary custody of the children?  Who will pay the mortgage?  Who will provide health insurance for the family?  In cases where the parties can agree on the “status quo” for the time that the case is pending, they can enter a stipulation and proceed accordingly.  If the parties are unable to agree on a “status quo,” motions for temporary orders should be filed and argued by the Court.

I can’t believe that she asked for sole custody in her Complaint.  Will she get it?

One thing that I have noticed in the Brad/Angelina saga is how much fuss is being made over the fact that she asked for sole custody of the children.  It is customary for a party to ask for sole custody in a divorce complaint.  Whatever a party seeks in their complaint can – and often does – change throughout the case.  So, even if she may only want joint custody, she will seek the most restrictive custody (sole) in her complaint to allow her the ability to ask for sole custody or to later take a step back and ask for something joint.   So, it’s hard to say if Angelina truly wants to have sole custody of the kids, if she asked for sole custody as a strategy or if she felt the need to ask for sole custody because of the allegation of abuse.

How does the allegation of abuse factor in?

When an allegation of abuse is lodged, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) will open an investigation.  Often this is initiated through a complaint by the other parent or by a “mandated reporter” (police, therapist, doctor, teacher).   DCF will open an investigation, assign a dedicated investigator and interview all parties to determine if abuse or neglect is an issue. If no abuse is found, the matter is closed.  If abuse or neglect is found, often there is a treatment or rehabilitation plan created to address the situation.

They say that Brad cheated.  How does infidelity factor in?

Though you can still file for divorce in Massachusetts “for cause,” and that cause can be for adultery, it subjects you to a standard of proof that adultery occurred but makes very little difference in the outcome of the case.  I think that this matters most in two scenarios:  1) If someone was unfaithful and the children were brought into the relationship or 2) During the affair, marital funds were used and wasted on the adulterous relationship.   Outside of that, there is no advantage gained in Massachusetts simply because a married person had a relationship outside the marriage.

If you are in a situation related to divorce, separation or custody and would like to discuss your options, contact me.  I can provide a brief free phone consultation for you to discuss your concerns so that you know if I can assist you.

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