On Tuesday (September 20) the outlet first reported that Pitt was struggling with alcohol abuse, marijuana abuse, and anger issues, and that all of these things led to Jolie filing for sole physical custody of the couple's six biological and adopted children. Now, they have sources who claim that the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) received an anonymous tip that Brad was "wasted on a private jet" and "became physically and verbally abusive" to one of his children — later revealed to be the eldest, Maddox — during a layover at a Minnesota airport on Wednesday, September 14.
As of press time, the latest news is that the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) is not investigating this report, since it allegedly began in the air. (Once they landed, however, witnesses told TMZ that Pitt was "out of control" on the tarmac and tried to drive away in a fuel truck.) Instead, it's in FBI jurisdiction.
... Which makes this all sound very huge and important and terrifying, so Revelist spoke with expert divorce attorneys from New York and Los Angeles to figure out what might go down with the Jolie-Pitts:
According to NYC divorce attorney Jacqueline Newman, Pitt's custody fate hangs on what Child and Family Services — who, by law, are conducting an investigation — concludes about this incident.
TMZ reports that DCFS has already interviewed Pitt and Jolie separately, and will soon interview the kids. If the interviews produce information suggesting abuse occurred at the couple's Los Angeles home, the LAPD will open a new case. But until then, according to Newman, the DCFS are the ones to watch.
"Should they find that this was unfounded, and there really was no abuse going on, then I don’t think it’s going to have much of an impact at all on the divorce proceedings [overall]," Newman explained to Revelist over the phone.
And it certainly sounds like this might be the case. According to a new report by People, a source close to the situation says Pitt put his hands on Maddox during a drunken fight with Jolie, but did not strike him.
However, if the incident at the tarmac is found to be abusive "beyond any ordinary discipline" — so if Pitt did indeed strike Maddox as opposed to, say, grabbing his arm aggressively — then the court will need to look into whether this was a one-time deal or a pattern of behavior, and Pitt's custody rights could be in danger.
"There were obviously witnesses there, so it’s not like he can say that nothing happened," she explained, adding that Pitt's reported inebriation could actually work in his favor if this was a one-time incident, since his "judgment was obviously off."
If abuse of Jolie or the kids IS found by the FBI, DCFS, or law enforcement, Los Angeles divorce and child custody attorney Chloe S. Wolman says Pitt will have to prove to the courts that he is a safe parent.
Wolman specifically referenced California statutes Family Code 3011 and 3044, which state that, for the best of a child, the courts will consider any history of abuse against them or the party seeking custody (so, Jolie) in their proceedings.
If abuse is found within the previous five years, there would be a "rebuttable presumption" that Jolie should have sole custody that Pitt would need to fight back against.
"The 'abuser parent' can show that they are a safe parent, but it’s no longer an even playing field," Wolman told Revelist over email. "[...] It is a huge uphill battle to prove that a parent who has any abusive history is safe to be around the kids.
"If any agency (DCFS/FBI/Police) found that Brad had been abusive towards either the kids or Angelina, then Angelina herself would automatically have the upper hand in any custody disputes. The court would be required to presume that Angelina is the more appropriate custodial parent and Brad would have to show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he is actually a safe parent for the kids to be around."
However scary this all sounds for Brad, Newman says that we shouldn't jump to conclusions of abuse based on the fact that Jolie filed for sole custody alone.
The fact that Jolie filed for sole physical custody, when — until this week — Pitt has always seemed like a model co-parent, initially seemed jarring and suspicious to many, this reporter included. But according to Newman, in many states, that's just the way it's done.
"In New York, you generally will file for sole custody; very rarely will you file for joint custody," she explained. "It doesn’t mean it doesn’t end up that way. It’s not as much as a statement as people find it to be."
Also, Newman says we should try to remember that this alleged incident on the tarmac occurred one day before Jolie filed; meaning the residual feelings from whatever happened was likely fresh on her mind.
"It doesn’t surprise me greatly that she would file this way," she continued. "It would surprise me more if ... they don’t end up with joint custody."
At the end of the day, in the following weeks — unless a pattern of abuse is found — Newman predicts that this will be settled privately out of court, tarmac incident be damned.
Though Newman says these rumors won't help Pitt's case because "you don’t want the court of public opinion rendering an opinion before the judge does," she still thinks we won't be seeing this divorce dragged out much longer ... or very long at all.
"This very sexy couple is going to have a very un-sexy divorce," she said.
In fact (and again, this all hinges on whether or not this tarmac thing was an isolated blow-up or a pattern), rumors like this hitting the press could actually help Jolie and Pitt settle this faster, since "beyond them, there are children at play, here."
"For a child to either read themselves or have one of their friends tell them ‘Oh, I read somewhere that your daddy hits kids,' that takes a lot of pressure and adds a lot of stress to an incredibly stressful situation," she explained. "They’re obviously going to want to protect their children, and the best way to protect their children is to keep it out of the press ...
I would expect that there will be a settlement in the next couple of weeks. I think they’re going to sit down and figure this out. It’s going to be settled behind closed doors, and we’re just going to read about the fact that it’s over.
... More as this story develops.