Celebs Who Got Into Messy Custody Battles

This article contains references to domestic abuse, child abuse, mental health issues, and addiction. 

The fact that many celebrity relationships crash and burn probably isn’t all that surprising, considering all the public scrutiny those relationships have to endure. But what might raise an eyebrow is how nasty celebrity custody fights can be. Sure, some may know the details of the more well-known custody battles, like the fight between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie or the ongoing tussle between Denise Richards and Charlie Sheen. And who could forget the toxic open courtroom custody case between Christie Brinkley and Peter Cook, since it was such a doozy? But there are other celebs who got into messy custody battles that you might have missed.

Naturally, these stories involve all kinds of accusations being hurled back and forth between warring former couples. Plus, some of these battles were long and drawn out, while others wrapped up much quicker. But they were all super contentious and left fans debating and choosing sides, so they have that in common. Put it like this, with all of the breakups and custody fights in Hollywood, the fact that we whittled this list down to 14 couples should show just how nasty their fights have been. So, let’s get into it.

Tyrese and Norma Mitchell

In April 2022, singer and actor Tyrese Gibson took to Instagram to share that he’d been struggling emotionally. Among other grievances, he referenced his divorce from second wife Samantha Lee as a partial reason as to why. But that wasn’t the first time Gibson had opened up about his relationship woes. In 2017, he posted a nearly seven-minute-long video to Facebook (via People) while going through a vicious custody battle with his first wife, Norma Mitchell. 

In the clip,  the “Fast & Furious” star wept uncontrollably and said that he was unable to see his eldest offspring. “Don’t take my baby. Please don’t take my baby,” Gibson pleaded. “This is all I got … I’ve been away from my baby for two months. I just want my baby and no one is listening, ’cause no one is in the courtroom.” Gibson then expressed confusion on whether he was doing something illegal by talking about the custody case on social media.

Per TMZ, Mitchell had previously claimed that Gibson had spanked his daughter so severely she couldn’t sit down, which he denied. The actor’s ex also filed a permanent restraining order, meaning he would’ve had to stay away from Shayla, but it was shot down by the court. Weeks after his emotional video had gone viral, TMZ reported that the judge gave 50/50 custody to Gibson and Mitchell, which seemed to end much of the drama between them.

Robin Thicke and Paula Patton

Paula Patton and Robin Thicke began dating as youngsters after meeting at an under-21 nightclub in Los Angeles. This is pretty much the order of their union after that: They married in 2005, their son Julian Fuego came in 2010, and their divorce arrived in 2015. Two years later, their custody battle became heated. 

The Los Angeles Times reported that Patton accused her ex of using drugs and alcohol and of being physically and emotionally abusive to her. Thicke’s attorneys flat out denied the claims, saying they were Patton’s way of fighting dirty during the trial. She was regardless granted a temporary restraining order against him, meaning Thicke could only have monitored visits with Julian. According to ET, the actor also accused the “Blurred Lines” performer of child abuse — he was later cleared of the claims by Child Protective Services.  

A few months later, the dust finally began to settle for the former lovebirds and they reached a custody agreementPer People, it was decided that the two would share custody, with Thicke caring for Julian from Monday through Wednesday, and Patton taking the child on Wednesday through Friday. Weekend custody would be alternated in equal turns between the two. In 2021, Thicke told “Extra” that he and his ex managed to make peace after committing to co-parenting therapy together. “That really opened the door for communication in a much better way for us,” he said. “And our son is thriving.”

Bethenny Frankel and Jason Hoppy

Reality star-turned-mogul Bethenny Frankel and Jason Hoppy tied the knot in 2010. They then untied it in 2021 after separating in 2012. Describing their custody war as unfriendly wouldn’t even come close to being descriptive enough. Words like vicious, ferocious, and downright nasty might be better suited to this particular showdown. 

In 2014, the gloves were officially off when Frankel accused Hoppy of threatening her, and he, in turn, accused his ex of using their child, Bryn, as a prop, per People. In 2019, the fight was still ongoing with Us Weekly reporting that the “Real Housewives of New York” alum had asked the courts for full custody of their daughter. In legal documents, Frankel said that her ex-husband had a temper problem, harassed her, and allowed Bryn to see negative press about her. At the same time, Hoppy accused his ex of bad parenting and making decisions that put Bryn in harm’s way. 

Per Page Six, in 2021 the judge eventually granted 50/50 custody to the former couple. After Frankel suggested that Bryn spends most of her time with her, it was later ordered that she no longer had to pay Hoppy child support. Per the outlet, he didn’t fight her on it. “I will not spend the remainder of Bryn’s childhood fighting as we share joint physical custody,” he said in court. “Bryn knows I love her, I want her, and I will always be available for our time together.”

Janet Jackson and Wissam Al Mana

Janet Jackson and Wissam Al Mana’s 2012 marriage may have been private, but their 2017 split and custody battle was anything but. News of the breakup came just three months after Jackson gave birth to their son, Eissa. On June 2, 2018, the “Control” singer called the police requesting that a welfare check be done on a then one-year-old Eissa, who was with his billionaire father in the Nobu Hotel, California.

TMZ reported that the star was allegedly concerned her ex was using drugs around the baby. Meanwhile, her brother, Randy Jackson, told ET that his sister was contacted by a nanny who was helping Al Mana take care of Eissa. At some point, a disagreement broke out between the billionaire businessman and the nanny, who ran into a bathroom to call Jackson. According to the nanny, Al Mana was acting aggressively toward her. It was later determined the tiff was over them not having a proper wifi connection. 

As far as Janet and Al Mana, however, their problems were much deeper. According to People, the former couple’s custody battle may have been complicated by their cultural differences. While the “Together Again” singer was raised Jehovah’s Witness, her ex is Muslim, which may introduce some co-parenting challenges. “They have very different ideas about how to raise Eissa,” a source told the outlet. “… During their marriage, Janet worked hard on adapting to Wissam’s culture, but she found it challenging.”

Future and Ciara

The paparazzi were popping their flashbulbs like mad when Ciara and Future got engaged in 2013. However, the singer and rapper were also in the press a lot during their custody fight over their son, Future Zahir. Their breakup came in 2014 amid talk that the rapper was having a tryst with his stylist, Tyrina Lee. In 2016, Ciara then accused her ex of being a bad parent when he had little Future in his care, per Daily Mail. The “1, 2 Step” singer claimed that little Future would often come home smelling of urine and weed instead of baby powder.

In other parts of the custody fight, the rapper blasted Ciara on social media and in interviews. She responded with a hefty $15 million defamation suit, which was later dropped. In January 2017, the former couple’s custody issues appeared to be over. TMZ reported that Ciara, who married NFL star Russell Wilson the previous year, was granted joint custody but would still have her son most of the time. 

But the problems seemed to continue. In 2018, Ciara accused the “Mask Off” creator of missing a bunch of scheduled visits. On top of that, she accused her ex of passing their child off to his grandmother and great-grandmother whenever he did pick him up, per TMZ.

Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee

After a three-year relationship practically lived out in the press, Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee divorced in 1998. Right away, they duked it out over their sons Brandon and Dylan, with the “Baywatch” star suing for full custody. In 2001, Daily Mail published court papers wherein Anderson accused the Mötley Crüe drummer of having been physically and mentally abusive of her and their sons. Citing his 1998 jail sentence for assaulting her, she stated, “Tommy’s behavior has deteriorated to such an extent that I am afraid for the emotional well-being of the children while in his care.”

Per New York Post, Anderson alleged that Lee was particularly dangerous when using alcohol. A claim that Lee denied, saying he’d abandoned his rock star lifestyle for a much healthier one. In retaliation, the drummer accused the “Barb Wire” actor of having a passion for partying instead of motherhood and said his boys despise her because she works too much. In the apparently endless back and forth, Anderson suggested that Lee was just jealous of her relationship with Kid Rock, who she was with at the time, and was trying to turn their sons against her, per Daily Mail.

Miraculously, in 2002, Entertainment Weekly reported that the pair had reached a custody settlement that gave them joint custody, so that was that. But boy, things really got messy there for a moment, didn’t it?

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website

Leah Messer and Corey Simms

Most people were introduced to “Teen Mom 2’s” Leah Messer when she was 16-years-old and about to have her twins, Ali and Aleeah. She was married to the kids’ dad Corey Simms for just six months, and the fight over their twins started years later. It happened when Simms sued Messer for full custody because he said she often brought the girls to school late. Eventually, Simms was granted primary custody, with Messer getting the kids Friday through Monday and him Monday through Friday, per People. Simms received the news during a “Teen Mom 2” episode, which Messer talked about with Us Weekly during an interview. 

Stating that the couple was committed to doing whatever was best for the kids, she explained their custody arrangement, “It’s always been 50/50. People were like, ‘Leah lost custody’ … I almost did, but I never lost custody of my children.” She also explained that she was experiencing mental health issues at the time, telling the outlet, “I wasn’t in the greatest place mentally and then it was affecting me physically like it almost cost me my children. … I became suicidal. It was a struggle.” Thankfully, Messer has gotten treatment and as of May 2022, seems to be doing a lot better. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Mel B and Stephen Belafonte

When former Spice Girls member Mel B and her producer ex-husband Stephen Belafonte split in 2017, let’s just say it wasn’t amicable. The former couple’s custody battle was over their daughter Madison, with both accusing the each other of bad parenting. According to the Daily Mail, for example, the former “America’s Got Talent” judge said that Belafonte was abusive and once video-called their daughter with a bunch of scantily clad women in the background. Belafonte denied the abuse allegations and went on to accuse his ex of brainwashing Madison to think he was abusive, per TMZ. The solution? He reportedly requested therapy for his daughter because in his opinion, she needed deprograming. 

In 2018, the fighting couple also filed restraining orders against each other, which were later dropped. Per TMZ, things were finally settled that year when Mel was ordered to pay Belafonte $5,000 a month in child support, in addition to the $15,000 in alimony he was already getting. She also dropped her abuse allegations. 

In 2020, Belafonte then went back to court and asked for full custody of Madison, alleging that his ex was living in England and barely saw her daughter — a problem that Mel claimed was heightened by travel restrictions brought on by the pandemic.  As of 2021, Madison was living with her dad in Los Angeles, with no word on how much time she spends in England.

Olivia Wilde and Jason Sudeikis

Not every custody fight gets messy as it goes on, some simply start out that way. That seemed to be the case with Jason Sudeikis and Olivia Wilde. In April 2022, the “Booksmart” director was served with custody papers while speaking about her film “Don’t Worry Darling” at CinemaCon. Deadline reported that the documents were about custody papers regarding the former couple’s two children, Otis and Daisy, who were eight and five when the awkward moment occurred. After pausing for a moment to open the envelope, “The Lazarus Effect” actor kept going, transitioning smoothly back to the talk of her film. One could say that she could give classes on professionalism and keeping it together.

As of May 2022, the mother-of-two has managed to stay cool after the incident as she didn’t comment on being served. While Sudeikis was keeping quiet also, an insider reportedly told People that the “Ted Lasso” star had no hand in orchestrating the moment how it went down. “Mr. Sudeikis had no prior knowledge of the time or place that the envelope would have been delivered as this would solely be up to the process service company involved and he would never condone her being served in such an inappropriate manner,” the source said.

However, as explored by Variety, some others believed that Sudeikis had to have known how and when his ex would be served. Why does it feel like a lot more will come out about this later?

Halle Berry and Gabriel Aubry

After four years of being a couple and celebrating the birth of a daughter named Nahla, Halle Berry and Gabriel Aubry split in 2010. After that, the actor and Canadian model didn’t waste any time getting into a vicious custody battle. According to People, the Oscar-winning actor alleged that Aubry had threatened her and that it wasn’t safe for Nahla to be around him. “She has attempted to resolve these custody issues amicably with her daughter’s father, Gabriel Aubry directly, but given his lack of cooperation, Halle has no choice but to seek swift judicial intervention,” Berry’s representative told the outlet. 

Aubry, meanwhile, denied the abuse claims with one of his reps saying in a statement that he was a loving, devoted father. Per TMZ, he submitted legal docs as well, so he could be officially listed as Nahla’s father. Berry was paying $16,000 a month to Aubry in child support at one point, which she vented about on Instagram, and used a colorful four-letter word to do so. She must’ve felt relieved when the child support was eventually dropped to $8,000 a month after she’d challenged the original amount.

Nas and Kelis

By the time Kelis had filed for divorce from Nas in 2009, she was already seven months pregnant with their son Knight. Then in 2017, TMZ reported that Nas accused his ex-wife of making it difficult to see his boy, who was eight years old then. He also said the “Milkshake” performer dictated when he could see him, which is why he went to court.

But a custody settlement was reached in 2018 that allowed the “Illmatic” rapper to have Knight on the weekends. The couple still remained in the headlines, though, after Kelis — who rarely talks about her personal life — spoke about the custody battle with Hollywood Unlocked. One of the things she said during the chat was that Nas wasn’t the best at keeping his visitation schedule. “You can’t not show up for months and then show up and then change the whole schedule, the whole plan, huh? Like, what? No sir, that is not what we are going to do. We’re not doing that,” she said. 

If that wasn’t enough back-and-forth for one lifetime, Nas accused Kelis of lying about abuse claims and suggested that she was the one who had been verbally abusive towards him. Then in 2019, the “One Mic” creator said Kelis was trying to move Knight to Columbia since she and her now late husband Mike Mora bought a farm there. The singer has since changed her mind and remained in the United States.

Madonna and Guy Ritchie

Madonna and Guy Ritchie split in 2008 and for a while, whatever custody agreement they had for their son Rocco seemed to go smoothly. But that changed in 2016 when the couple’s son, who was 15 at the time, abruptly left his mom’s “Rebel Heart Tour.” He then reportedly hightailed it to his dad’s house in the United Kingdom.

In time, the judge ordered Rocco to go back to his mom in New York, but he refused and remained with his dad. Meanwhile, Madonna went to court in an attempt to have Rocco sent back to her for the holidays, per HuffPost. There, a judge ruled that their son needed to head back to New York to speak with his mom before making an official decision on which parent he wanted to live with. However, as reported by New York Post, Ritchie’s lawyer claimed that Rocco had made his wishes clear that he didn’t want to return. 

In 2017, a settlement was finally reached, and it was decided that Rocco would reside with Ritchie in London, per ABC News. However, not much else was said about the custody arrangement or how much time Rocco would need to spend on airplanes to see his mom.

Britney Spears and Kevin Federline

Britney Spears and Kevin Federline’s divorce began in 2006 and they reached a custody agreement a couple of years later, per People. But that agreement was modified after Federline was given primary custody of their sons Preston and Jayden in 2008. The decision came after Spears refused to give the boys back to her ex, which led to her being arrested outside her California home. She was then taken to a hospital and placed on a psychiatric hold, per The Guardian

The former dancer spoke about having primary custody of Preston and Jayden in 2017 during an episode of “Personal Space” (via ABC News) where he opened up about there being plenty of times he couldn’t see his sons. He also talked about how co-parenting became easier as time went on. “I’m used to not having all my kids, and this is gonna be one of those years,” said Federline close to Father’s Day. “When you are co-parenting, you have to be willing to give up some of the things you would really like to do … It wasn’t always easy, but it’s a lot easier now.”

Apparently, Federline wanted things even easier because in 2018 he went to court and asked for more child support after getting $20,000 a month. Soon after, it was reported that Spears ended up paying him thousands more, which people online had plenty to say about, obviously. 

Jennifer Hudson and David Otunga

When Jennifer Hudson filed a protective order against her ex David Otunga, it was a clear sign that their custody dispute wasn’t going amicably. E! News reported the former “American Idol” contestant got the order because she felt it was best to do for their son David Otunga Jr. But big David said the protective order was something Hudson filed to give her a leg up in their custody fight.

During the height of the battle, the former WWE wrestler said he should be the primary caregiver because Hudson works too much and often travels. But the singer slammed that idea in court papers and said accepting that reasoning would be an insult to parents who know how to properly balance career and family. It also came out that he wanted the “Dreamgirls” star to buy him a house, which she found ridiculous, per court documents (via The Blast) which stated, “Nothing entitles David to live in a home identical to Jennifer’s … Having a child with a celebrity should not be the basis to treat David like someone who has given birth to a child.”

The former couple settled their custody issues in 2019 but the details of the arrangement were kept hush-hush, due to a gag order signed by the two in 2017.

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