Set to be one of the most expensive and drawn-out custody battles in Hollywood history, warring exes Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are pulling out all the stops in the hearing to decide access rights for five of their six children.
Brad, 56, is calling a massive 21 witnesses to support his case for a 50-50 split in the proceedings which got under way this week.
While Maleficent star Angelina, 45, is the “ultimate mama bear”, desperate to protect her kids, even from their dad, a source told The Sun.
The insider, who is close to both parties, said: “The kids have been shielded to a large extent, but they’re old enough to have a pretty strong sense of what’s going on and it breaks Brad’s heart to know they’ve been at the centre of this wretched battle for such a long time.
“Angelina is still the ultimate mama bear who insists she’ll walk through fire to protect them from anyone – even their own father – and she’s proud of the strength and maturity the kids have shown throughout this nightmare process.
“There’s been a hell of a lot of finger pointing and sniping from each of their respective camps for months now, ever since it became clear they weren’t going to be able to compromise face-to-face.
“Now the communication between Brad and Angie is virtually non-existent, and they’re both digging in harder than they’ve ever done before.”
The former couple, who met in 2004 when filming action comedy Mr & Mrs Smith, married in 2014.
They have spent months building their cases, costing a small fortune in legal bills. The latest stage of their long-running divorce saga began with a private hearing in an LA court.
The battle over Pax, 16, Zahara, 15, Shiloh, 14, and twins Knox and Vivienne, 12, kicked off behind closed doors on Monday, with the pair taking part via Zoom.
Brad is calling three times as many witnesses as his ex, who has named seven, including herself and Brad. A source said: “Brad and Angelina have been at a total impasse for longer than anyone can remember.
“They’ve hired the best attorneys money can buy and any previous hope of coming to a civilised compromise outside of court has well and truly dissolved now.
“It’s incredibly sad it has come to this. There’s unlikely to be an official ruling until right before Christmas and, of course, in the meantime it’s all hanging over the family’s heads like the darkest of clouds.
“Brad and Angelina spent many weeks, if not months, working with their legal teams to draw up lists of witnesses who’d help strengthen their respective arguments.
“In Brad’s case the list is longer because he feels he has to cite as many anecdotes as possible from credible characters who can vouch for his parenting skills, as well as the kids’ needs.
“And with Angelina currently having the bulk of time with the children, there’s a view that he’s got to convince the judge to change the current situation.
“He wants a straight 50 per cent of custody, with visitation dates and overnight stays set in stone.”
A decision is expected at the next court date on December 21, but it could be put back depending on how the case goes.
It has already been agreed that their eldest son, Maddox, 19, can decide for himself when he wants to see his dad.
Brad’s witnesses include Jillian Armenante, who co-starred with his estranged wife in 1999 film Girl, Interrupted, for which Angelina won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress.
He will also be calling Dr Stan Katz, a psychologist who testified at Michael Jackson’s child molestation trial, trauma expert Bren Chasse, security company boss William Thiel, Dr Fred Luskin, an expert in “forgiveness therapy”, and Melissa Brymer, the director of terrorism and disaster programs at the UCLA-Duke National Center for Child Traumatic Stress.
She is said to be an expert in “how children deal with stress following disasters such as school shootings”.
His other witnesses include a neuropsychologist, divorce psychologist, clinical psychology professor, education specialist, domestic violence expert, two security guards, three personal assistants, a family friend and a woman believed to a former nanny to their children.
Brad and Angelina, who separated in 2016 after the actress filed for divorce citing irreconcilable differences, are both calling on controversial American domestic violence expert Alyce LaViolette to testify.
In 2013, Alyce made headlines after clashing with the prosecutor in the high-profile trial of killer Jodi Arias, who butchered her ex-boyfriend.
Alyce had claimed the killer acted in self-defence because she had suffered domestic violence, which was angrily denied by the prosecutor, who she told to “take a time out”.
On Monday, Angelina tried to remove one of Brad’s witnesses, psychologist Dr Robin Deutsch, from proceedings, claiming she had failed to adhere to “legal, ethical and procedural requirements” but the bid was rejected.
In August Angelina also failed to remove the judge overseeing their hearing. She claimed Judge John W Ouderkirk, who came out of retirement to take the case, had not disclosed his prior relationships with Brad’s attorneys.
Brad is said to be adamant that he gets a cast-iron custody schedule so he can develop a regular routine with his kids and strengthen their relationships.
He is also opposed to Angelina’s rumoured plan to move the children abroad.
A source said: “Brad wanted so badly to work this out with Angelina, or so he says, but found her to be too inflexible.
“They butted heads over the kids’ schooling, with Angie insistent that home or overseas education was the way to go, while Brad insists they’re to be raised in LA, their rightful home, until they’re old enough to choose for themselves. So the court showdown was inevitable, unfortunately.”
Brad, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for last year’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, is currently dating German model Nicole Poturalski, 27, who has a seven-year-old son.
After their relationship was revealed in August, it transpired she was still married to his friend Roland Mary, a 68-year-old German restaurateur, who is said to be philosophical about his wife’s new romance.
But Nicole has come in for some cruel criticism from online trolls. On Thursday she hit back on Instagram, calling her detractors “just so rude and sad”.
In a video captioned, “Hey guys I have been wondering since forever why people leave hateful comments??”, she wrote in German that she isn’t “the kind of person to spread hate”.
She added: “I just don’t understand what goes on in the heads of such people. Why? What is your benefit? Just in general I want to understand the train of thoughts. Because I don’t get it. It’s just so rude and sad for those commenting.”
A source told The Sun Brad tries to keep his custody battle and new girlfriend separate.
An insider said: “Brad is incredibly guarded about his battle with Angelina and only opens up to his very closest family members and trusted LA friends and colleagues, some of whom have known him for 20 years or more.
“He doesn’t talk about Angelina when he’s on dates with Nicole, or any other woman he’s been with since the divorce. Brad has found other tools to process his resentments and stresses and he’s known to shut people down quickly if they bring up the topic of Angelina.
“He has been seeing Nicole for more than a year and despite all the talk of him going public on purpose, the truth is that this wasn’t supposed to get out. He likes her a lot but he has been seeing other women as well — he just does things privately.”
After the new lovers were pictured in the South of France, a source claimed: “Angie is furious and utterly stunned Brad could stoop this low.”
The bitter divorce and custody battle is also believed to have affected the children’s relationship with Brad’s parents Jane and William, who live in Missouri.
When Angelina was awarded temporary full custody in September 2016, Brad was allowed supervised visits only, making seeing extended family harder.
One insider claimed the kids have not seen their grandparents since 2016. Sources say a rift between Angelina and her mother-in-law began after Jane wrote a letter to her local newspaper against gay marriage.
It is alleged the pair now “refuse to speak and Angelina doesn’t want her children to visit her”.
This story originally appeared on The US Sun and is republished here with permission.