Updated 03 December 2020
Divorces are like car crashes – fascinating, but only from a distance. Furthermore, every divorce is different, with its own challenges and complications. That’s nowhere more apparent than in these famous and infamous cases. New couples, take warning.
Divorce is notoriously one of life’s most stressful ordeals, comparable to bereavement and serious illness. Yet still there’s a morbid fascination in the divorces of other people. When the individuals in question are historic, glamorous or fabulously wealthy, that curiosity intensifies. Perhaps it’s our way of reminding ourselves that money can’t buy you happiness – or true love. Right, on with the cautionary tales.
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were seen as so much the ideal couple that they were known by a single word, following the tradition of ‘Bennifer’ (although Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez never made it as far as the altar, cancelling with four days’ notice). Though only married for two years, ‘Brangelina’ were together for an impressive 12, and onlookers were stunned when Jolie filed for divorce in September 2016.
In hindsight, it shouldn’t have been such a shock – given that when the couple first got together, Brad Pitt was already married, to Jennifer Aniston. The moral? Beware the marriage that begins with the break-up of another.
History does not say whether Henry and Katherine were ever known as ‘Hentherine’, though they might as well have been. Many forget that their marriage lasted nearly 24 years, and by all accounts was a happy and loving one, with Henry jousting in tournaments as ‘Sir Loyal Heart’ and laying his trophies at Katherine’s feet.
But everyone knows what happened next. Frustrated at the lack of a male heir, with Katherine now past child-bearing age and a certain mesmerising Anne Boleyn at court, Henry sought annulment of his marriage. It took four years and a schism with the Roman Catholic Church to achieve his aim, making it one of history’s messiest ever splits. Despite the popular rhyme, technically he didn’t actually divorce Katherine – rather, he claimed that they had never been legally married in the first place. Harsh.
They say blood is thicker than water. However, on this evidence it’s not the basis for a long and happy marriage. Back in 1976 Spielberg was fresh from directing the blood-filled blockbuster Jaws, while Irving had just co-starred in the equally gory Stephen King horror movie Carrie. They had an on-off (or should that be action, cut?) relationship before finally marrying in 1984. But the marriage sank like a rubber shark in 1989 after Spielberg hooked up with Indiana Jones star Kate Capshaw, and Irving was awarded half the director’s $200 million fortune – in defiance of the couple’s prenuptial agreement. The reason? The prenuptial agreement had been scribbled on a cocktail napkin.
Napoleon Bonaparte found himself in a similar predicament to Henry VIII – bereft of a suitable male heir despite years of happy marriage. Napoleon married Josephine in 1796, and his love letters to her are a testament to their genuine feelings for each other.
However, not only did both of them have extramarital affairs, but Napoleon was desperate to have a son to succeed him. So in 1809 he persuaded Josephine to a divorce – but even this seems to have been a romantic occasion. At the ceremony Napoleon said, ‘She has adorned thirteen years of my life; the memory will always remain engraved on my heart.’ For her part, Josephine said that agreeing to the divorce was ‘the greatest proof of attachment and devotion ever offered on this earth.’ The moral? Divorce does not have to be a bitter affair.
If these famous divorces teach us anything, it’s that every divorce is unique. What’s more, although divorce can happen to anyone, no-one ever expects it to happen to them. Finally, divorce has a way of taking you into uncharted territory full of unpleasant surprises, where the old certainties no longer apply. For these and many other reasons, it’s vital to have a qualified solicitor with experience in divorce law to act as your guide.
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