'Brangelina' Breakup Continues in Court over Château and Winery
Brangelina: a household portmanteau almost since the set of Mr. & Mrs. Smith. But not long after the star-crossed celebs were saying their "I-dos," the same stars were crossing the T's and dotting the I's on their divorce papers. Or so they thought. Seven years later, the legal battle over the split of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie continues. This season, we're in court over the ownership of a fancy little French shack with grapes in the back. Let's summarize the current controversy.
Marvelous Château Miraval
Underway this fall are court proceedings over Pitt and Jolie's jointly owned estate and wine domaine, Château Miraval. Miraval is a renowned château and vineyard estate nestled in the picturesque countryside of south France. The estate encompasses over 1,800 acres, with two valleys, a serene lake, and a world-renowned recording studio. Its vineyards are cultivated organically, adhering to sustainable practices that foster the land's vitality and enhance the quality of its grapes. The domaine is best known for its exquisite rosé wines, which have garnered international acclaim, and one of which was the first rosé wine ever to be included in Wine Spectator's Top 100 list.
The celebrity couple leased the estate with an option to buy in 2008, and soon purchased it. They intended to share the home with their children and keep the vineyard as a family business. They were even married in the château's chapel in 2014. Pitt's complaint alleges that the couple agreed that if the time ever came, they would sell their interests separately only with the other's consent, with Jolie allegedly saying, "I agree it all has to go if it goes."
Jolie and Pitt each owned their interests in the Château through their respective companies (Nouvel and Mondo Bongo) that were formed in California. This is conceivably why the lawsuit is being filed in California state court. Apparently, these two companies agreed in writing to give each other a right of first refusal in the case of the sale of their respective interests in estate.
Pitt's Pet Project
Pitt soon began taking the business aspect of his new joint purchase pretty seriously. He teamed up with renowned French winemaker Marc Perrin and worked with him to grow Miraval into a multimillion-dollar company that produced one of the most highly regarded rosés in the world.
What did Jolie do? According to Pitt's attorneys, nothing. They claim that she “did none of the work necessary for Miraval's success" but instead “stood by as Pitt invested money and sweat equity into the home and business." They claim that as of 2016, Pitt had already invested almost $50 million more in the company than had Jolie.
Jolie's cross-complaint, of course, paints things differently. Her cross-complaint asserts that she “did everything within her control to help the winery succeed," including making “substantial monetary contributions" and using “her name and image to help elevate the winery's status and prestige." Jolie also claims that the winery was just one part of the renovation; her focus was more on transforming the chateau into a family home and a place to host and support their humanitarian and philanthropic endeavors.
In any case, Jolie allegedly recognized that she and her husband had put in disparate investments into the estate and that she would honor that if the time ever came to sell, saying, “I leave with what I put in and nothing additional."
Pitt claims he had been relying on Jolie to keep her “promise to hold Miraval together" when he put all these efforts into the estate. Even after he and Jolie split, she allegedly reassured him that she still saw the company as an investment and business that their children would stand to inherit one day. Pitt claims that he continued to invest his time and money in the business largely based on Jolie's promises.
Importantly, it seems that such promises were not formalized. Jolie's business manager apparently advised to her in 2008 that she should create a business agreement with Pitt that “outlines how the property will be liquidated if something happens to your relationship, i.e. is the property sold, do one or both of you have the right to buy the other one out, if so, how is the price reached for the buyout, etc. etc." But Pitt allegedly responded that “it wasn't necessary for two reasonable people to have such an agreement," so Jolie dropped the matter.
Bitter Breakups and Business Breakdowns
The Hollywood power couple didn't last all that long; things soured quickly, with Jolie alleging Pitt engaged in violent and abusive behavior toward her and their children. When the star couple were going through their infamous divorce, the time did indeed come that Jolie wanted out. Thus commenced buyout negotiations. Initially, Jolie planned to sell Pitt her half of Miraval for $54.5 million, but that fell apart when Pitt insisted that she sign an agreement not to discuss his conduct toward his family outside of court. Instead, Jolie sold her interest in the estate to a third party for $67 million.
This prompted the lawsuit brought by Pitt in 2022, seeking to stop the sale and bringing up their previous private agreements. Jolie's lawyers filed a cross-complaint, accusing Pitt and his business partners of running the business poorly. They accuse Pitt of acting "in a hostile, destructive, and illegal manner," misappropriating the company's trademarks, and using the profits for "wasteful vanity projects" such as a new house and swimming pool on the property.
A Not-so-Demure Demurrer
Jolie's lawyers also filed what's called a "demurrer." This is a pleading filed in a civil lawsuit that challenges the sufficiency of the opposing party's legal claims or defenses. It essentially argues that even if the facts alleged in the complaint or answer were true, there is no legal basis for the lawsuit to proceed. Jolie's legal team was thus contesting the legal sufficiency of the pleadings, hoping to have the lawsuit dismissed. As is often the case, Jolie's demurrer was pretty vague, responding with boilerplate spaghetti on the wall that everything Pitt claims "fails to state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action."
A hearing on the demurrer was scheduled for November 15, but the judge ran out of time to hear it on the scheduled day. The case has just been pushed to December, so the celebrity couple can expect a holiday full of cheerful court proceedings. Hopefully, the rest of you have a much less frigid time with your families lined up.
- Divorce: Who Gets the House? (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
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- Divorce and Business Ownership (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
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