Brangelina: The End of An Era

As TMZ reports, the Hollywood power couple has decided to call it quits, with Angelina filing divorce paperwork in L.A. earlier this week.

A high profile separation such as this one raises a lot of family law questions concerning child support, spousal support, and the division of assets (of which this duo has many). As new information is obtained, we'll know more about the parties plans with regards to these issues. Of the utmost concern to Brad and Angelina right now is the parenting arrangements for their 6 children.

Sources close to the former couple are indicating that Brad and Angelina are preparing for a lengthy custody battle. Reports indicate that Angelina has made a claim for sole custody of the children, citing Brad's heavy consumption of alcohol and marijuana, paired with anger management issues, as her basis. In the days since the news has broken, some preliminary reports have surfaced accusing Brad of substance abuse, and even more concerning, a potentially abusive incident involving one of the children.

Brad is reportedly outraged by these accusations, claiming he has never placed any of his children in harm's way and that Angelina is spinning stories. Brad has warned Angelina that he will be opposing her on the custody issue. Brad believes Angelina has placed the children in harm's way by making the allegations that she has, which are sure to push the children further onto the public stage, something he wanted to avoid during this very personal and private process.

The media has done a great job of presenting both parents views regarding the potential parenting arrangements, but few media outlets are discussing what actually matters in a parenting dispute, as the primary concern for any judge overseeing this case will be the needs of the children.

In Ontario, when Courts are determining custody or access issues, their only consideration is what is referred to as "the best interests of the child", and the interests or rights of parents do not supersede the welfare of the child. In conducting a best interests of the child analysis, the Court will consider all of the child's needs and circumstances, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • The love, affection, and emotional ties between the child and each person claiming custody of or access to the child
  • The child's views and preferences, if they can be reasonably ascertained
  • The length of time the child has been in a stable home environment
  • The ability and willingness of each person applying for custody of the child to provide the child with guidance and education, the necessaries of life, and any special needs of the child
  • The plan proposed by each person applying for custody of or access to the child for the child's care and upbringing
  • The permanence and stability of the family unit within which it is proposed the child will live;
  • The ability of each person applying for custody of or access to the child to act as a parent; and
  • The relationship by blood or through an adoption order between the child and each person who is party to the application (Children's Law Reform Act, s. 24(2))

Practically speaking, under the CLRA, both parents of a child share an equal right to custody, and there is no presumption of one parent's rights over the other. However, as both parties present their evidence to the Court, the Court will determine the parenting arrangement that will best meet the children's needs in consideration of the factors outlined above, and this may result in an Order for sole custody to one of the parents.

In highly contentious or high conflict custody and access cases, the parties may apply or the Court may make an order for the involvement of the Office of the Children's Lawyer (OCL). The OCL can become involved in a family law matter in multiple ways, including actual representation of a child, or by completing an assessment or report for the Court, or both. Other family professionals may also be brought before the Court to give evidence, including therapists or counsellors who work with the family, or who are familiar with the issues in dispute.

There is no question that this separation will continue to grace news headlines for weeks to come. As more details are provided, the picture will become clearer regarding not only the parenting arrangements which will flow from the Brangelina break-up, but also matters concerning the couples' respective support obligations to each other and/or the children, and the division of their many assets. We will be sure to keep you posted.

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