US tabloids and social media were thrown into overdrive yesterday at the shock announcement that the Hollywood acting elites popularly referred to as "Brangelina" are destined for divorce.
Widespread tabloid media reported that Angelina Jolie, who filed for divorce on 15 September 2016, cited grounds of "irreconcilable differences" between her and husband Brad Pitt. Together the actors have raised six children.
It is understood that Jolie is swiftly seeking to formalise the parenting arrangements for their children, to establish an arrangement that they live with her and spend time with Pitt. Commentators speculate that the basis for Jolie seeking this restricted arrangement stems from allegations that Pitt has parenting deficiencies connected with anger management; issues that are exacerbated by misuse of alcohol and recreational drugs. Jolie is seeking that she and Pitt have "joint legal custody" (as opposed to "joint physical custody") which, under Australian Family Law legislation, translates to both parents being granted "shared parental responsibility".
Whilst this sensationalised story ought best be resolved away from the prying eyes of the media, it is worth noting that, under Australian law, Jolie's concerns in respect of Pitt's parenting capacity and alleged substance misuse are certainly relevant to determining what parenting arrangements are in the best interests of their children. Too often it seems necessary to obtain evidence in family law matters to either support or refute a claim of excessive alcohol use or misuse, or determine the chronic use of legal and/or illegal drugs. Undoubtedly, matters involving such allegations warrant further investigation to ensure that children are not placed at risk of physical or psychological harm if spending time with a parent who may be under the influence of such substances. It would equally be in Pitt's interests to obtain evidence to disprove such allegations.
As practitioners, we are then asked to consider, either by the Court or by our clients, what the substance sought to be identified is, and what appropriate method of testing shall result in probative evidence being placed before the Court?
A review of our previous alert, Identifying drug abuse – the right test at the right time, may be timely if not topical.
An additional challenge that family law practitioners must also consider is that, in many circumstances, the parties may not have the same resources of the Brangelina's of this world and cannot afford to meet the costs of regular and ongoing drug testing. In some cases, this will result in the undesirable situation where the court is forced to draw an adverse inference against a party in the absence of evidence to the contrary.
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