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Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie’s Custody Battle: Burning Questions Answered by Legal Expert

Spelling it out for Us. An Angelina Jolie source claims to have reached a legal, permanent custody agreement with estranged husband Brad Pitt, but insiders close to the Fight Club actor, 52, tell Us Weekly that the agreement is temporary.

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As previously reported on Monday, November 7, a rep for the Oscar-winning actress, 41, told Us that the former couple’s six kids, Maddox, 15, Pax, 12, Zahara, 11, Shiloh, 10, and 8-year-old twins Knox and Vivienne, will remain in her custody, while Pitt, who retains shared legal custody, will have visitation rights.

“We can confirm that childcare professionals have encouraged a legal agreement accepted and signed by both sides over a week ago. In accordance with this agreement, the six children will stay in their mother’s custody, and the children will continue therapeutic visits with their father,” the statement to Us reads. “We are not in a position to discuss the details. We believe that all sides are committed to healing the family and ask for your consideration during this difficult time.”

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According to a Jolie insider, the agreement is not temporary. “There is no expiration date on the agreement,” the insider explains. “The only way for this agreement to change is if both parties agree to a change or Brad must file a completely new motion to go to court.”

However, a source close to Pitt — who filed for joint physical and legal custody of the children last week in response to Jolie’s September 19 divorce petition — also told Us that the Allied star will continue to fight for joint legal and physical custody.

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Brad Pitt Angelina Jolie family kids children
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie with children (L-R) Pax Jolie-Pitt, Zahara Jolie-Pitt, Knox Jolie-Pitt, Shiloh Jolie-Pitt and Maddox Jolie-Pitt, attend the world premiere of Disney’s ‘Maleficent’ at El Capitan Theatre on May 28, 2014, in Los Angeles. Charley Gallay/Getty Images

“Brad’s filing demonstrates that he’s going to fight for the kids,” the insider told Us. “His filing shows that he is going to stand firm on sharing custody of the kids. It’s a clear sign that he’s going to fight for his right for the kids.”

To help Us make sense of it all, Christopher Melcher, a California-based family lawyer who is not involved with the case, answered our burning questions about Brangelina’s very confusing custody battle.

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1. Have the parties reached a legal, permanent agreement, as Angelina Jolie’s team asserts, or a temporary one, as Pitt sources counter?

“With the statement that Jolie’s rep made, which said that they reached a legally binding agreement, and his statement stated that it was temporary — those are consistent concepts,” Melcher says. “You can make a binding agreement, but one that is temporary and easy to change. They’re probably both saying the same things, just in different ways. What often occurs early in the process is that parties make temporary agreements to put a Band-Aid on the problem and see how things work, let everything calm down. Because it’s only a temporary solution, it’s easily changed by either party. If they make an agreement, [the court] will enforce it, but if anyone wants to get out of it or terminate it, they can.”

Angelina Jolie Brad Pitt
Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt attend the EE British Academy Film Awards 2014 at the Royal Opera House on February 16, 2014, in London. Karwai Tang/

2. What do you think Brad’s strategy is? What is Angelina’s?

“Angelina’s saying that they’ve reached some kind of agreement to allow everyone to heal and move forward, and it’s binding. And Brad’s saying this is only temporary and just [an extension of] what we’ve already agreed to. Until they actually file something in court that says we’ve reached a binding agreement that’s going to be permanent, they don’t have really a permanent deal. From the two conflicting statement that I saw, it appears that at least they’re working together on a temporary basis to share some custodial time, but they still have things to iron out,” Melcher continues. “However, he’s in a very difficult position: He wants to handle this in a private fashion, without going to court. So the price that he pays is that he’s subject to whatever Angelina and these therapists recommend that he has as his time with the children. There comes a point when that is no longer a viable option of working it out, and he would be forced to go to court and ask for time from the judge.”

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3. Why would Brad, who is looking to get more custody than he currently has, agree to just therapeutic visits?

“To avoid having a public battle; he may just to have to take what he can get by Angelina’s grace at this point. She really has the control over how much time he has [with the kids], and if he doesn’t like that, it’s up to him to go to court and convince a judge to award him more time. But to do so, he would have to then file in a public court proceeding, a detailed declaration of whatever happened on the plane, what’s going on in that relationship and why he should have more time.”

4. Could this battle go on forever?

“If Brad isn’t making any progress toward his desired settlement, then he needs to go to court and ask for orders. Because if he waits, say, for another six months, and he’s only had therapeutic visits, it’s going to be very difficult for him to get fifty-fifty custody, because that would be a very abrupt change in how the children have been seeing their dad. The court would then do step-ups or graduated visits so it would be a very little time for a while, and he would be relegated to having low time with his children. So he’s in a real bind. … I would imagine it’s a work in progress, that he’s going to continue talking to the therapist about why he should have more time and keep pushing for that. And I would expect in the next few weeks that he would — if things don’t start turning around, he will really have to look at asking the court for an order.”

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5. Was there any strategic reason for Brad to sign this agreement?

“I think the only strategic reason for him to agree to anything would be to avoid having this heard in a public courtroom and to continue building trust with Angelina. I can’t see anything going on in the case that would have forced him to make an agreement because the ball is totally in his court right now,” Melcher notes. “He’s the one who needs to go to court to get the custody order in place if there is no agreement. Sometimes people make an agreement because the other side is threatening to go to court. But there is no real threat that she would make because she already has all the time with the kids. I don’t really see any strategic reason for him to make an agreement to avoid action on her part since the action really needs to be taken by him if he’s unhappy.”

6. It sounds like both parties are trying to avoid a lengthy, public court battle, right?

“They don’t have to go to court if they make an agreement and submit that agreement to the court. If they’ve figured all that out, submit it to the court, then the court will just approve it. However, if Angelina is saying they’ve got a permanent deal and Brad is saying they don’t and that it’s temporary, then the court would have to sort that out. … I’m sure neither one of them wants to go to court, but they could both use that as a weapon against each other. If they can’t work it out, somebody has got to make the first move, and Brad is in the position where he’s the one who needs to go to court and get orders if there is no agreement, because he has no time or very limited time, it appears, with his children.”

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