Madonna and Guy Ritchie to Divorce

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Stephen Hird / Reuters

Madonna and her husband, director Guy Ritchie

Madonna and British film director Guy Ritchie have announced they will end their marriage after seven and a half years together, according to a statement released Wednesday afternoon by the pop star's spokeswoman.

"They have both requested that the media maintain respect for their family at this difficult time," the statement said.

Guy Ritchie's mother, Lady Amber Leighton, declined comment this afternoon when reporters gathered outside of her home in west London, saying: "We are not talking to press and we won't be all day."

News of the suspected announcement was reported earlier this morning by the British tabloid The Sun. Citing a source close to the pair, the newspaper said disputes over the amount of time each devotes to their career and Madonna's wish to adopt another child reportedly destroyed the couple's attempts at reconciliation "like a sledgehammer."

"Despite huge attempts to patch things up they both knew deep down that divorce was on the cards," the source said. "It wasn't a matter of 'if' but 'when.'"

Another source of tension appears to have been the Material Girl's growing distaste for Britain. "When Madonna first moved to the U.K., she loved the idea of becoming an English rose. But slowly it turned sour," the source said. "She doesn't have many friends here and as she turned 50 she has become very philosophical and started wondering what it's all about."

Madonna hoped to announce their separation next year, after the conclusion of her Sticky and Sweet tour, the newspaper says. But a series of arguments around Ritchie's 40th birthday in September were so upsetting "that Madge ended up storming out of the house."

"Guy said if they were going to split, it has to be now," the source told The Sun.

Rumors have mounted for months that their relationship was on the rocks and that Madonna was having a liaison with New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez — allegations made by Rodriguez's estranged wife but denied by the pair.

"My marriage is fine, as far as I'm aware of," Ritchie told PEOPLE magazine on July 25. Six weeks later, the couple put on a united front at the premier of Ritche's film RocknRolla in London's Leicester Square, posing for photographs on the red carpet.

The Sun says that Ritchie has flown back from France, where he was filming a movie about Sherlock Holmes, and will move out of the couple's London home, which Madonna owns.

According to the statement, the couple has not agreed to a settlement. Their combined wealth has been estimated at $525 million, the majority of that belonging to Madonna. Ritchie's reported fortune is $35 million. The couple owns at least six other properties in London, Los Angeles and New York City, and a 1,200-acre estate in Wiltshire in southwest England.

Together they have two sons: Rocco, 8, and David Banda, 2, a Malawian orphan they adopted last year amid controversy that they had violated international adoption laws. Madonna also has a 12-year-old daughter, Lourdes, whose father is her former personal trainer, Carlos Leon.

(Click here for a 2006 TIME interview with Madonna.)

(Click here for a 1985 TIME cover story about Madonna.)