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When Divorce and Child Custody Cases Take Years to Resolve


Divorces involving child custody can be complex. In many instances, both parents want as much time with the child as possible. But what happens when one parent is fighting for primary residential and legal custody? And what does this mean for divorce proceedings? Simply put, it can get messy and may take much longer to resolve.

Consider the ongoing divorce and child custody case between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, for example. The high-profile Hollywood couple have been fighting over custody of their children for nearly five years. At the time of their highly publicized split in 2016, custody of their six children immediately came into question. Pitt and Jolie hired retired Judge John W. Ouderkirk to arbitrate the custody case. Interestingly enough, Mr. Ouderkirk also officiated the couple’s wedding in 2014.

Jolie lobbied hard for full custody of the couple’s children from the start, claiming Pitt is abusive and should only have limited visitation with the children, who at the time ranged in age from 7 to 15. Jolie seemed to be winning until, when recently, Ouderkirk granted Pitt temporary joint custody. Through her attorneys, Jolie protested this move and called for the judge to be removed from the case, accusing Judge Ouderkirk of “failing to disclose in a timely manner professional links to one of Pitt’s lawyers.” Initially, a Superior Court judge denied the request on the grounds that Jolie had waited too long to file the complaint. Jolie appealed that decision. On July 23, 2021, a California appeals court ruled in Jolie’s favor.  Judge Ouderkirk will now be dismissed and his previous rulings in the case could potentially be voided. A new judge will be appointed, slowing down the custody case even more, which in turn delays the finalization of the couple’s divorce.

Is it normal for a child custody case to take years to resolve?

Most child custody cases in New York City do not drag on for five years. Ideally, in the event of a separation or divorce, parents manage to agree on a custody arrangement that can be outlined in a custody agreement. If they cannot agree to a custody arrangement on their own, mediation or collaborative law may help resolve any issues. If an agreement cannot be reached through either of these methods, the court may have to step in to determine custody based on the child’s best interest.

Contentious cases do arise, and when they do, they can last quite a while. For example, if one or both parents fight each other – and the court – every step of the way, it can extend the time it takes to resolve custody issues. That is not to say such battles are not warranted, but rather often times, they are misguided. For example, some parents may do this as a form of vengeance and in an attempt to punish the other parent. Whereas, other parents fight custody arrangements because they legitimately believe their child is in danger of suffering abuse or neglect while in the care of the other parent.

Getting to the root of the issue and determining if the child is safe in the custody of each parent can take time. Time, however, also plays an important role in child custody cases. As time passes, children grow up and their needs change. As they get older, children are usually better able to express their feelings regarding their relationship with each parent and the amount of time they want to spend with them – and the court often considers their preferences depending on the child’s age.

In the case of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, the children have been growing up – their oldest son, Maddox, will be 20 in August and is no longer part of the custody case. However, he testified in the case earlier this year, as an adult. The couple’s second child, 17-year-old Pax, will turn 18 later this year. The other children: Zahara, 16; Shiloh, 15; and especially twins Vivienne and Knox, age 13; have now spent a significant amount of their childhood in the midst of this custody battle.

If you are considering divorce and have a minor child, it is important that you consult with a skilled New York City divorce lawyer. The compassionate Manhattan, New York child custody lawyers at Berkman Bottger Newman & Schein LLP are experienced in all aspects of divorce and child custody and are adept at resolving even the most complex cases and disputes. Call 212-466-6015 or fill out our contact form to schedule your consultation today. We proudly serve New York, Westchester, and Bergen County, NJ.