“Brangelina” and the Problem with Abuse Allegations in a Divorce


Upon hearing the news of the breakup of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, I was saddened and surprised; however, neither of those emotions were for the reasons one would expect.  Personally, I was a member of “Team Aniston” long before many of millennials were even born.  I have nothing invested in the Brangelina union, and from the perspective of divorces in Hollywood, this is just another couple of stars who have fallen into the black hole of Hollywood marital abyss.  But from a family law perspective?  Well, that’s another matter…

Let’s be clear:  There are still many facts which we do not yet know.  What we do know is that there has been an allegation of child abuse on the part of “Team Jolie.”  Unfortunately such allegations are all too common in family court.  When such allegations are made, they tend to give one party an inherent advantage over another in terms of obtaining temporary custody of the minor children….  And, as in most contested custody cases, the temporary decision of the Court can have lasting consequences.

So how is a situation like the Brangelina saga (that is to say, a case involving an allegation of child abuse by one party) likely to play out in South Carolina?

  1. In contested custody cases, the Family Court will typically set what is called a Temporary Hearing in order to make an interim decision on issues such as child support, child custody and visitation.  At this hearing, the parties’ attorneys will be allowed to submit affidavits on their clients’ behalf.  These affidavits are often from counselors, close friends, and others in support of a parties’ position.  In cases where there has been an allegation of child abuse, DSS may become involved.  If a DSS investigation is opened, as it was in the Brangelina case, that fact may become very important at this stage of the private family law case.  Regardless of whether the allegations of abuse are true, the judge will render a temporary decision regarding custody based on such evidence presented.  In most private contested custody cases, the judge will also appoint a Guardian ad Litem, who will conduct an investigation into the alleged facts of the case.  If a DSS case is opened, DSS will also appoint a Guardian ad Litem.  The two cases may be joined or proceed across parallel tracks.
  2. So what is the issue with this? In the event a DSS case is opened, a parent will often have to wait for the decision in the DSS case regarding custody and visitation before a decision is made regarding custody or visitation in the private family law case.  For example, if the judge in the DSS case orders that the minor child is to have no contact with a father or mother until a DSS investigation is complete, then regardless of whether the allegations against the mother or father are true, the DSS investigation will typically have to be concluded and/or a decision rendered regarding this issue before any decision is made in the private case.
  3. So what if DSS successfully proves its case against the father or mother and a “no contact” order is issued in the DSS case? In that case, the family court is unlikely to render a decision that allows contact with the accused party in the private matter.  What’s worse, in many cases, it can take years for the DSS case to wind its way through the Court system.  In such cases, it is possible the accused mother or father could go years without seeing their minor child or children.

In many cases, your attorney may need to file a Motion to have these issues brought to the attention of the Court.  Unfortunately, in many cases, the court will want the investigations to be completed before the accused parent is able to see their minor child or children.

For the Brangelina brood of Maddox, Zahara, Shiloh, Pax, Knox and Vivienne, there will be no shortage of attention, regardless of whom ultimately winds up with custody.  For your own children, the results can have long-lasting consequences for their relationship with the accused parent.  If such allegations are not in fact true, then the pursuit of such charges by the accusing parent are essentially a form of parental alienation (see my previous blog entitled “Parental Alienation: ‘No’ the Signs”) wrapped up in a neat little package called an “abuse allegation.”  If a DSS investigation is opened as a result of a false allegation, it is at the taxpayers’ expense, regardless of the truth of the matter or the resources of the parties…

Melissa S. Miller is an attorney with The Miller Law Firm, P.A. practicing in the areas of family law and workers’ compensation in South Carolina. For further information, visit The Miller Law Firm, P.A.’s website at www.themillerlawfirmpa.com or visit The Miller Law Firm, P.A. on Facebook at “The Miller Law Firm, P.A.”