The Stories Behind The Most Infamous Divorce Cases Of All Time



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Over 800 Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of The Stories Behind The Most Infamous Divorce Cases Of All Time
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Vote up the most brutal breakup stories.

When a couple chooses to make their commitment to each other in a legally binding contract, there's an almost 50% chance it won't end well. Still, lovers have leaped for centuries - hopeful for marital bliss and crossing their fingers that they'll be among those who manage to remain committed.

Perhaps because divorce is something that everyday people can understand and relate to, news outlets tend to sensationalize celebrity divorce cases. As wealthy couples in the spotlight call it quits, details of their expenses and expected child support payments, intimate fights, and extramarital affairs become public knowledge. 

While these couples often have prenuptial agreements that directly predict precisely what will happen during a divorce case, details surrounding the splits still shock (and entertain) the world. Below are 14 stories behind some of the most infamous divorce cases of all time.

Photo: Unknown / Wikipedia / Fair Use

  • King Henry VIII Created His Own Church In Order To Divorce Catherine Of Aragon
    Photo: Joos van Cleve / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    When anticlericalism first surfaced in England in the 1520s, King Henry VIII remained a staunch supporter of the Catholic faith. As Martin Luther and other theologians turned Europeans toward Protestantism, Henry pledged to be the pope's “Defender of the Faith.”

    However, the king faced a monumental dilemma despite his devotion to Catholicism. His marriage with his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, had failed to produce an heir, and Henry was growing desperate. He set his eyes on Anne Boleyn, a woman in Catherine's court who insisted she would not become another one of his mistresses.

    In 1527, Henry approached Pope Clement VII, requesting a divorce because Catherine had been briefly married to his older brother, Arthur, until his untimely passing. Unfortunately for the king, the Roman Empire had completely taken over Rome, and Pope Clement was in hiding. The man left in charge was none other than Catherine of Aragon's nephew, King Charles V of Spain. 

    Undeterred but losing patience, Henry took counsel from prominent Protestants Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell on how to proceed with the dissolution of his marriage. The pair planted the idea that the pope should not have power over the King of England, suggesting that Henry should determine his fate and marry the heavily pregnant Anne Boleyn in 1533. A year later, Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy, creating the Church of England and the complete separation from the Catholic Church. 

    331 votes
  • Dan And Betty Broderick’s Divorce Became Known As The Worst In San Diego County And Ended In A Double Murder
    Photo: OWN / YouTube
    396 VOTES

    Dan And Betty Broderick’s Divorce Became Known As The Worst In San Diego County And Ended In A Double Murder

    For 16 years, Dan and Betty Broderick lived the classic American dream - Dan was a successful malpractice attorney with celebrity status in La Jolla, CA, and Betty was a stay-at-home mother of four and the social event planner for the family. However, under the charade of marital bliss, the couple's relationship was nearing a meltdown. 

    Betty first speculated her husband was having an affair with his receptionist, Linda Kolkena, in 1983. Despite Dan's insistence of fidelity, the couple officially called it quits in 1985. As the San Diego County divorce unfolded, it became increasingly ugly. Betty grew violent as her estranged spouse fought for their children and fortune: spray-painting the inside of their elaborate hillside mansion, running her car into Dan's front door, leaving nasty messages on his answering machine, and replacing his name with "God" on all of their legal documents. Throughout the highly publicized event, Betty repeatedly warned her children that she would kill their father. 

    According to Betty, Dan had used his celebrity status as a high-profile attorney to bully the court system into an unfair case. As he moved on with his new wife, Linda, he had Betty arrested and placed in a mental institution. But that didn't stop the angry ex-wife from harassing the new couple with her continuous hateful messages on the new family's answering machine. 

    Eventually, Dan threatened to file criminal charges against Betty. In a moment of pure rage, Betty used their eldest daughter's key to let herself into Dan's home, where she proceeded to shoot and kill her ex-husband and his new wife. According to the LA Times, a subsequent interview with the ex-turned-murderer revealed that Betty was "intelligent, angry, and without remorse." From prison, the former socialite explained to the journalist: 

    I have never had emotional disturbance or mental illness - except when he provoked a "disturbance"… My “emotional outbursts” were only a response to Dan's calculating, hateful way of dealing with our divorce. He was hammering into me and everyone else that I was crazy… How long can you live like that?

    396 votes
  • After 22 Years And 10 Children, Charles Dickens Dumped His Wife So He Could Get Together With A Much Younger Woman
    Photo: Daniel Maclise / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    When Charles Dickens first married his wife, Catherine, he was very much smitten by his new bride. However, after the couple had 10 children together, he grew resentful that he had such a large family to support. Instead of taking mutual responsibility for their ever-growing brood, he blamed Catherine for his marital disillusionment. 

    After unsuccessfully reconnecting with a previous love interest, Dickens set his adoring eyes on a young actress, Ellen Ternan, who held a starring role in The Frozen Deep, a play the author chose to write and co-star in. As he spent more time with Ternan, Dickens grew increasingly bored with his marriage. In 1857, he and his wife began sleeping in separate rooms. It wasn't until a bracelet that Dickens intended for Ternan was mistakenly delivered to Catherine that the couple chose to make their separation final.

    In an unprecedented move for the era, Dickens wrote a letter to the London Times explaining why he and his wife were mutually agreeing to divorce: 

    Some domestic trouble of mine, of long-standing, on which I will make no further remark than that it claims to be respected, as being of a sacredly private nature, has lately been brought to an arrangement, which involves no anger or ill-will of any kind, and the whole origin, progress, and surrounding circumstances of which have been, throughout, within the knowledge of my children. It is amicably composed, and its details have now to be forgotten by those concerned in it. 

    Despite Dickens's public assurances, Catherine never recovered from the split. She passed 20 years later, with only her oldest son still by her side. The other nine children remained with Dickens, who discouraged them from visiting their mother. 

    Afraid of facing another scandal, Dickens kept his affair with the much younger actress a secret for the rest of his life. Although letters reveal that Ternan eventually grew unsatisfied in the relationship, she had grown dependent on Dickens's financial support. They remained together until his 1870 passing.

    457 votes
  • When Tiger Woods crashed his car in November 2009 outside the Florida home he shared with then-wife Elin Nordegren, the world discovered that the PGA star had been hiding deep secrets from his family and the public. 

    A few days before the accident, tabloids reported a suspected affair between Woods and a New York nightclub manager. Once the initial news of his affair and accident made headlines, more women came forward, claiming they had also had relationships with Woods while he was married to Nordegren. 

    In an early 2010 interview with People Magazine, the Swedish model revealed she and Woods hadn't been spending as much time together over the previous 3½ years, as she was either pregnant or raising their young children and attending school while he attended tournaments. Nordegren was shocked by the infidelity accusations and crushed to eventually learn they were true. 

    Over time, more than a dozen women, including a porn star, admitted having intimate relations with Woods. The golf pro entered a rehabilitation center soon after, but he and Nordegren ultimately couldn't move past Woods's serial infidelity. They divorced in August 2010 but continued co-parenting their children, Sam and Charlie.

    377 votes
  • For five years, Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt starred alongside one another as Hollywood's power couple. Rumors first swirled that the stars had aligned into a romantic relationship in 1999, which they confirmed by showing up as each other's dates at the Emmy Awards that September. By November, the two were engaged. 

    After a highly publicized wedding in July 2000, the couple settled into their new marriage. While their relationship appeared full of a distinctly glamorous romance, Aniston surprised journalists (and eventually the public) by disclosing that she was uncertain if Pitt was really the "love of her life" in 2003. Months after she shared that she was ready to have a baby with Pitt in 2004, reports of his affair with his Mr. and Mrs. Smith co-star Angelina Jolie filled tabloid headlines. Aniston would later recall the one and only time she met Jolie, shortly before filming for the fateful movie began:

    It was on the lot of Friends—I pulled over and introduced myself… I said, “Brad is so excited about working with you. I hope you guys have a really good time.”

    On January 7, 2005, Pitt and Aniston officially announced their separation in a letter to People Magazine:

    We would like to announce that after seven years together we have decided to formally separate. For those who follow these sorts of things, we would like to explain that our separation is not the result of any of the speculation reported by the tabloid media… We happily remain committed and caring friends with great love and admiration for one another.

    Despite the couple's insistence that the rumors of Pitt's affair were untrue, he began openly dating Jolie shortly after he and Aniston announced their divorce, and tabloids went wild with photos of the pair's romance. Aniston later told Vanity Fair, “The world was shocked, and I was shocked… I would be a robot if I said I didn’t feel moments of anger, of hurt, of embarrassment… [With Brad] there’s a sensitivity chip that’s missing.”

    In the same 2006 Vanity Fair interview (the year after their divorce) Aniston discussed the rumors of infidelity, and her previous statement that the relationship with Jolie wasn't a factor:

    What we said was true—as far as I knew. We wrote it together, very consciously, and felt very good about it. We exited this relationship as beautifully as we entered it…

    I just don’t know what happened… There’s a lot I don’t understand, a lot I don’t know, and probably never will know, really. So I choose to take away with me as much integrity and dignity and respect for what that relationship was as I can…

    I choose to believe my husband… At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised by anything, but I would much rather choose to believe him.

    Aniston also emphasized that she and her former husband were both responsible for the breakup and negated the “love triangle” narrative. Meanwhile, Jolie spoke to Vogue in 2007 about how she and Pitt's bond developed on set during Mr. and Mrs. Smith, saying they were “the last two people looking for a relationship” and claiming they didn't get together until after he and Aniston separated.

    Regarding Jolie's interview, Aniston told Vogue in 2008:

    There was stuff printed there that was definitely from a time when I was unaware that it was happening… I felt those details were a little inappropriate to discuss… That stuff about how she couldn't wait to get to work every day? That was really uncool.

    515 votes
  • After years of maintaining a picturesque image of royals in love, Diana revealed in a 1992 interview that, in many ways, her marriage was doomed before it even began. When she and Prince Charles (now King Charles III) were engaged, Diana was friends with Camilla Parker Bowles. 

    However, their relationship quickly deteriorated as Diana suspected that Parker Bowles and Charles were in love. Before the wedding, Charles had given his friend a bracelet with their pet name initials carved on the inside. Later, Diana noticed Charles had cufflinks with two Cs intertwined.

    Realizing the pair had more than a platonic relationship, Diana revealed to her sisters that she wasn't sure she wanted to go through with the wedding. Still, her family insisted it was her only option. 

    In 1992, Diana disclosed in an exclusive six-tape interview that the struggles in her marriage eventually led to her eating disorder, bulimia, and that she heard Charles speaking privately on the phone with Parker Bowles multiple times throughout their union. Once, she witnessed a picture of Parker Bowles fall from a book Charles was reading. The princess also famously mentioned she felt like the "third person" in their marriage, as Charles openly displayed his affection for Parker Bowles for years. 

    He  didn't admit he was having an affair until 1994; he and Diana got divorced by 1996. When she met her untimely demise in August of the next year, Charles addressed the public and mentioned that he had no intention of remarrying. 

    He waited a long time, but he and Parker Bowles officially tied the knot in April 2005.

    536 votes