Madonna and Ritchie confirm divorce

Pop star Madonna and her husband, the film director Guy Ritchie, confirmed today they are to divorce.

The pop star's spokeswoman said the couple had agreed to separate.

Liz Rosenberg said in a statement, co-signed by a representative of film director Ritchie, that the couple had not agreed a settlement, the Associated Press reported.

The short joint statement read: "Madonna and Guy Ritchie have agreed to divorce after seven-and-a-half years of marriage, their representatives confirmed today.

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

Ms Rosenberg said relations between the couple were still cordial, and they expected to agree a divorce settlement without going through the courts.

Film director Ritchie, 40, married Madonna seven years ago at a lavish ceremony in Scotland.

But rumours have been circulating in the press that their relationship was increasingly under strain.

Just weeks ago, the couple made a very public show of affection in what was seen as a move to end speculation surrounding their marriage.

Madonna walked down the red carpet with Ritchie at the world premiere of his latest film in London's Leicester Square.

She made a surprise appearance at the event after the stars of Ritchie's film RocknRolla met fans and the press.

Wearing a short black Stella McCartney dress with jewels down the front, the singer walked arm-in-arm with Ritchie and posed for photographs.

Prior to the Leicester Square appearance, Ritchie stamped on suggestions that his marriage was over with a public show of support at his superstar wife's 50th birthday party.

Newspaper reports suggested rows between the couple had escalated in recent months.

According to the Sun, Madonna wanted to wait until the end of her Sticky and Sweet global tour before announcing the split.

But the date has now been brought forward, with both parties wanting a divorce finalised before Christmas, it claimed.

An unnamed source told the newspaper the final straw came when the couple had a "screaming row" shortly before the singer started her US tour.

Ritchie has reportedly broken off from shooting his new film in France to return to the UK.

Leading divorce lawyer Andrew Newbury, of Manchester-based law firm Pannone, said that if the split does end up in court, Madonna's decision to base her family in the UK could mean she ends up paying Ritchie more in settlement.

The Sunday Times Rich List estimated the couple's joint fortune at £300 million, but the vast majority is thought to stem from the singer's 25-year recording career.

Mr Newbury, who has worked on a number of celebrity divorces and pre-nuptial agreements, said Ritchie could become part of a growing trend of men who end up claiming assets from their richer wives.

Mr Newbury said: "If Guy Ritchie were to instigate proceedings in Britain, then recent precedents mean Madonna would be facing the potential of a much larger settlement than, say, if she lived in California."