It has been a long time since Angelina Jolie first filed for divorce from Brad Pitt. The first divorce filing came all the way back in 2016. Since then, the former married couple has been engaged in a bitter back-and-forth over custody of their six children. Initially, the favor went towards Jolie. Pitt was denied easy access to their children and struggled with substance abuse and accusations of being abusive towards his family. However, over time, the balance has shifted and a new decision in court granted Pitt 50/50 custody alongside Jolie. The reversal and Pitt’s victory have re-ignited a national debate over fathers’ rights to custody over their children, which has historically favored mothers.

Brad Wins Joint Custody

Brad Pitt

The bitter divorce battle has been dragged out over nearly 5 years now. Although the divorce was finalized years ago, the battle for custody remained fiery and bitter. Jolie first filed September 9th, 2016, just two years after “Brangelina” tied the knot. Pitt and Jolie began dating in 2004 while filming Mr. and Mrs. Smith together. For a time, they seemed to be living the dream: beautiful, powerful, beloved by peers, and building a growing family together. The couple had three biological children together and adopted three more. Everything seemed pristine.

Until their secrets were laid bare by the divorce. Per Refinery, initially Jolie was awarded custody; “[September 2016] Jolie is granted temporary full custody of all six Jolie-Pitt children after a recommendation from the Los Angeles County Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS). The organization launches an investigation over a claim that Pitt was abusive to Maddox during an allegedly drunken fight on September 14 when the family stopped to refuel their private plane at Minnesota’s International Falls Airport. Pitt is still allowed monitored therapy visits with the children.”

In November, Pitt was cleared of abuse allegations and Jolie released a statement to the effect of being glad the investigation was over and that the state was confident in the safeguards put in place to protect the children. For the next two years things are tense but relatively stable, and Pitt is granted limited custody of his children. However, in August of 2018, Jolie released a statement claiming Pitt had paid no meaningful amount of child support since their separation. Jolie filed with the court to that effect, a move which Pitt’s legal counsel dismissed as an attempt to divert media attention in her favor as their client had recently lent Jolie around $8 million to purchase a home and, according to Pitt’s counsel, had paid thus far nearly $1.3 million to support Jolie and the children’s living expenses. By November of 2018 the couple was on the brink of a bitter in-court custody battle and sat down to work it out in person, agreeing ultimately to a deal where custody wasn’t split 50/50, but Pitt received more time than he had been. For a time, it kept them out of custody court.

This week, Insider announced that a source had informed them of the new custody court ruling. The former couple ended back up in court as Pitt pushed for more time with his children. Witnessed were called and the process was intense, with the court ultimately finding and ruling that Pitt deserved to split custody with Jolie 50/50.

Jolie Plans to Keep Fighting

Brad Pitt Angelina Jolie

However, Jolie is reportedly angry over the decision. According to the actress, the judge refused to interview the children and believes the ruling would have been decided otherwise if they had done so.

USA Today shares, “Jolie, who has sought to disqualify Judge John Ouderkirk from the divorce case, said in the filing Monday that he declined to hear evidence she says is relevant to the children’s safety and well-being before issuing a tentative ruling. The documents don’t elaborate on what that evidence may be.

‘Judge Ouderkirk denied Ms. Jolie a fair trial, improperly excluding her evidence relevant to the children’s health, safety, and welfare, evidence critical to making her case,’ according to the filing in California’s Second District Court of Appeal.

The actress also said the judge ‘has failed to adequately consider’ a section of the California courts code, which says it is detrimental to the best interest of the child if custody is awarded to a person with a history of domestic violence. Her filing did not give details about what it was referring to, but her lawyers submitted a document under seal in March that purportedly offers additional information.”

With that volley against the judge’s competence, it’s clear Jolie doesn’t believe it’s over and plans to fight to regain the lopsided custody arrangement she seemed happier with.

The Ruling is Reason for Fathers’ Rights Activists to Celebrate

Pitt’s victory in being awarded 50/50 custody is a stand-out precisely because it doesn’t usually happen that way with fathers, especially those who have been investigated in the past – rightly, or wrongly. Across the United States, support groups and advocacy groups have arisen around the subject of fathers’ rights in custody battles. Traditionally, custody favors the mother, although that balance can vary from judge to judge.

But because the mother often has so much pull going into a custody case, it can set fathers up to lose precious time with their children – sometimes, for no reason at all. In cases where there is no abuse and both parents start the custody battle on equal footing, advocates want the default to be 50/50 joint custody. Kentucky was one of the first states to pass a law making that the default.

According to a 2016 census only 1 in 6 fathers in the US is a custodial parent, meaning majority or full custody of their children. Given the fact that more than 1 in 6 fathers is likely a good father, why aren’t more dads being given care of their children? Ironically, the answer may be more insulting to women than men. The idea that women are natural child caretakers and are more well-positioned to stay in the home and care for the children is a holdover from days when women had fewer rights. Men were once expected to be the sole breadwinner, and therefore couldn’t possibly be home and fully tuned in to caring for their children, or capable of arranging proper childcare while away from home.

Now that we know women are not always the best parent and deserve the chance for a career outside of the home just as much as fathers, and we’ve learned that fathers are capable parents who can problem solve the challenges of custodial parenting, it’s time to ask: why are we still holding on to these old stereotypes? When parents enter a court system, the children often benefit from a system that respects both parents equally as the caretaker of their children, barring any abuse or neglect. In Kentucky, for instance, the onus is on each parent to prove the other is unfit in order to remove custody time rather than assuming one is more fit right off the bat.

Generations of children have been harmed by policies that limit the potential of women outside of the home, and the potential of men inside of the home. Looking back over the years at the hoops Pitt has had to jump through to get joint custody for his children, the debate rages anew about how we should welcome men into the custody conversation. Clearly, the way many states approach it is outdated and in need of reform. States like California especially tend to come down hard on fathers and leave loving parents bereft of time with their children. With states like Kentucky and others leading the way in a more equitable approach, it’s possible change is on the horizon. While it may be too late for generations of families trying to patch together the damage caused by bad custody rulings, dads today have advocates and hope that maybe they have a fighting chance, just like Pitt.