LONDON (Reuters) - U.S. pop star Madonna and film director Guy Ritchie have agreed to divorce, they announced on Wednesday, ending nearly eight years of marriage and months of tabloid speculation over their relationship.
The celebrity couple, who have a joint fortune estimated at around $525 million (302 million pounds), have yet to reach a final settlement on the terms of the split.
"Madonna and Guy Ritchie have agreed to divorce after 7-l/2 years of marriage," Madonna's representatives in New York and London said in a brief statement.
"They have both requested that the media maintain respect for their family at this difficult time. A final settlement has not been agreed upon yet."
The couple have a son, Rocco, who was several months old on their wedding day in December 2000.
In 2006 Madonna applied to adopt David Banda, a boy from Malawi whose mother died shortly after his birth. The adoption was approved by a court in Malawi in May.
Madonna also has a daughter named Lourdes, born in 1996, from the pop singer's relationship with fitness trainer Carlos Leon. She was married once before, to actor Sean Penn, in the 1980s.
Rumours that the London-based couple planned to split have been circulating for months, fuelled by reports in the summer that the singer had lined up Fiona Shackleton, a lawyer who acted for former Beatle Paul McCartney in his recent divorce.
Madonna, 50, and Ritchie, 40, denied the stories, and appeared together on the red carpet last month in an apparent show of solidarity.
"IT'S VERY SAD"
But the Sun tabloid broke the news on Wednesday that an announcement on their divorce was "imminent," and confirmation came hours later.
"It's very sad," the Sun quoted a "highly-placed source" as saying. "They were a great couple and brilliant parents. They just couldn't live together any more."
Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone was born in Bay City, Michigan on August 16, 1958, into a large, devout Italian-Catholic family.
She went on to become one of the most successful singers of all time with estimated album sales of more than 200 million and is in the middle of her "Sticky & Sweet" world tour.
She is due to play in Boston on Wednesday and Thursday before moving on to Toronto.
Ritchie has seen his directing career recover from a string of critical duds, and is now making a major Hollywood blockbuster "Sherlock Holmes" starring Robert Downey Jr. as the Victorian-era super sleuth.
The fate of the couple's fortune is unclear, although some lawyers familiar with high-profile divorce cases say it is unlikely they will take the matter to court, where details of their private lives could be aired in public.
"This is very different from the McCartney case, which ended in a massive court case," said Alan Kaufman, head of family law at London-based law firm Finers Stephens Innocent, referring to the ex-Beatle's acrimonious split from Heather Mills.
"All indications are that they (Madonna and Ritchie) are very private people."
And while husbands and wives are equal in the eyes of the law, he said his experience suggested it was harder for a husband to claim a substantial amount of money than a wife.
Madonna's earnings are believed to account for the vast majority of the family fortune.
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