The NY Post reports If screaming at your kids is child abuse, grounds for divorce and sole custody of the children, as alleged by Angelina Jolie, then parents everywhere ought to be chilled to the bone. In fact, Jolie is merely following the well-worn divorce script where horrid accusations by one party is a basic strategy to win preferable custody settlements.
Jolie split from Brad Pitt and requested sole custody of their six children, “for the health of her family,” she claims. Several days prior, a disputed incident took place on a private flight from France to the United States in which Pitt is accused of having been drunk or high or both, screaming at his wife and family and possibly lunging at his 15-year-old son Maddox.
Pitt denies the allegations, explaining through a friend that “he takes the matter very seriously and says he did not commit any abuse of his children.” According to NBC News, Jolie’s accusations triggered a “routine” investigation of Pitt by the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services, during which time he’s unable to visit his kids.
Rachel Ruttenberg, executive director of the Family Defense Center in Chicago, has seen this movie before. “It’s very commonplace for adults to use the child-welfare system against each other during their disputes with one another,” she says. “It’s unfortunate because the child-welfare system is not set up to properly handle those. It clogs the system, overloads investigators, and distracts them from true cases of child neglect and abuse.”
Sheila Boxley, CEO of the California-based Child Abuse Prevention Center, agrees with Ruttenberg: “It is not uncommon to have child-abuse reports at the time of divorce or separation.” And Boxley argues that such allegations nearly always get taken seriously because of the nature of the accusation.
Indeed, media outlets and experts have speculated that Jolie may have alleged the abuse in order to strengthen her demand for sole custody, when the California standard is shared parenting. “In the event Angelina continues to pursue litigation to gain custody of the children, the case worker’s report will surely come into play,” speculates New York divorce lawyer Neena Tankha.
Monica Mazzei Potter, a divorce lawyer in San Francisco, told USA Today that the allegations are likely to hurt Pitt when it comes to the couple’s divorce settlement.
“Any person going up against false allegations of abuse, even though you’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, you have an uphill battle of presenting evidence that it’s not true. So, yes, he’s in a weaker position,” Potter says.
Pitt may have an uphill battle in court now that an abuse allegation has been added to the mix, but what about the investigation itself? Obviously abuse of children is abhorrent and needs to be investigated, so why not have child welfare look into it? The answer is that those agencies are too often in the habit of finding parents guilty first and investigating later, and doing so on the basis of expansive definitions of abuse and neglect.
Parents get investigated for choices rather than for any harm they’ve caused — for allowing their children to walk outside unsupervised, for playing at the local playground without an adult present and for sitting safely unsupervised in cars, all when nothing has happened and no harm has come to the children.
Although much is reported about their dysfunction as a couple, this would not be in the headlines