'90s Child Stars Who Have Gone Through Messy Divorces

The following article addresses domestic violence and death.

Millennials grew up with Britney Spears' music, "Adventures of Mary-Kate & Ashley," Tim Allen's TV son on "Home Improvement" Zachery Ty Bryan, the adorable Rudy Huxtable Keshia Knight Pulliam, Naya Rivera singing on "Glee," and dozens of other young celebrities. An entire generation was raised side by side with these '90s child stars and saw them through awards, success, weddings, kids, and even divorces. Sadly, the picture-perfect romances some of them have portrayed are not always actualized.

Millennials have been lowering the USA's divorce rate, but some are still tying and untying the knot. Some divorces are amicable, with some exes even throwing divorce parties. Other separations are long and drawn out but still respectful. But some are straight-up tumultuous and, frankly, messy. Whether it be due to money, differences in parenting, extramarital affairs, and/or anything in between, some splits are just plain ugly. And growing up in the public eye can only make it harder to navigate such a painful time.

Elisabeth Moss and Fred Armisen had a 'traumatic' marriage

Elisabeth Moss started her acting career when she was 8 years old and has grown up to be an award winner with critically acclaimed television shows, leading to the title "Queen of Peak TV" from Vulture. Similarly to the short-lived engagement of Pete Davidson and Ariana Grande, the "Mad Men" star met her future partner Fred Armisen on "Saturday Night Live" when she made a cameo appearance for her co-star Jon Hamm's episode in 2008. The couple started dating soon after and announced their engagement three months later.

Not 10 months after their 2009 wedding, the newlyweds separated. And three months later, Moss filed for divorce, due to scheduling conflicts and their long-distance relationship as the main deciding factors. But a couple of years later, both of the famously private people opened up about their end of the whirlwind romance. "It was extremely traumatic and awful and horrible," Moss told Vulture. "At the same time, it turned out for the best." In an interview with Page Six in 2012, Moss agreed with the unnamed party who described Armisen as "so great at doing impersonations. But the greatest impersonation he does is that of a normal person" (via Today). The same article quoted Armisen from his interview with Howard Stern, where the "Portlandia" creator confessed to not being the best partner: "I think I was a terrible husband, I think I'm a terrible boyfriend."

Christina Ricci filed a restraining order against James Heerdegen

Christina Ricci portrayed the beloved and mysterious Wednesday Addams in 1991's "The Addams Family." And, unfortunately, her marriage to James Heerdegen seemed like a horror show in its own right.

Ricci and dolly grip Heerdegen met on the "Pan Am" set and soon began dating. Seven years after marrying in 2013, Ricci filed for divorce. In 2020, the actress was granted an emergency protective order against her husband after police were called to their home. Ricci alleged that Heerdegen started physically and emotionally abusing her in front of their son, Freddie. Photos obtained by TMZ captured injuries on Ricci's hands and arms. In 2021, Ricci obtained a domestic violence restraining order, which granted her full custody of Freddie and ordered Heerdegen to say 100 yards away.

By 2022, the couple reached a divorce settlement and appeared to agree on custody, with Ricci as the primary parent and tie-breaker for Freddie's education and medical decisions.  Despite this, Ricci requested an emergency hearing after her ex allegedly tried to stop her from taking her son on an NYC trip. In court documents obtained by Page Six, Ricci said, "Jimmy's refusal to agree causes me concern, because he clearly was being vindictive and retaliatory when he initially refused my request to travel for the additional dates." In the past, Heerdegen had reportedly reneged on his custody agreements with Ricci. As of June 2023, the exes' battles appear to be ongoing.

Keshia Knight Pulliam and Ed Hartwell accused one another of cheating

Known for playing Rudy Huxtable on one of the biggest sitcoms of the '80s "The Cosby Show," Keshia Knight Pulliam has been adored by fans ever since. She became one of the youngest actors to ever be nominated for an Emmy. In 2015, now a grown woman, Pulliam announced her engagement to retired NFL player Edgerton Hartwell. The two wed in a small ceremony only weeks later. Sadly, the relationship ended in divorce over accusations of adultery and a nasty custody battle.

After less than a year of marriage and only days after Pulliam revealed her pregnancy, the former linebacker filed for divorce. In the filing, Hartwell demanded the actor agree to a paternity test. According to an anonymous source, Hartwell did not have evidence of Pulliam stepping out, aside from the pregnancy occurring during a bumpy time in their relationship. In an exclusive interview with Entertainment Tonight, Pulliam confronted the allegations head on. She shared she suspected her spouse had been unfaithful and was ready for a divorce, but gave Hartwell a second chance after learning about her pregnancy. But she'd changed her tune. "It's not about me," Pulliam said through tears. "[My daughter] doesn't deserve it."

Three years of lawyers and court dates later, the "Tyler Perry's House of Payne" star gained primary custody of and child support for their daughter, Ella Grace. Pulliam married actor Brad James in 2021, and they share a child together.

Zachery Ty Bryan plagiarized his divorce statement

"Home Improvement" star Zachery Ty Bryan has had some improvements to do. 

Bryan married his high school sweetheart Carly Matros in 2007 and the couple had four children. Their marriage was quiet until Bryan announced their divorce in September 2020. "It has been an incredible journey, but together, we've decided to turn the page and move on from our marriage," Bryan posted on Instagram. "We're asking for privacy, compassion, and love during this time" (via Perth Now). This post has since been deleted after social media sleuths quickly realized that Bryan had copied his statement, almost verbatim, from fellow actor and recent divorcé Armie Hammer. Strange, right? Well, Bryan quickly fessed up to the plagiarism, telling The Hollywood Reporter, "I literally did not know what to say, and he was literally going through the same thing as I was ... I remember thinking that his statement was perfectly said ... so I thought, 'Let's go.'" Audiences would soon learn that Hammer and Bryan have more in common than just their divorce statements.

A month after his divorce went public, Bryan was charged with allegedly strangling his girlfriend, model Johnnie Faye, in their Oregon apartment. He was convicted of two counts of domestic violence and served three years of probation, during which he and Faye got engaged and had three children (a second set of twins for Bryan). In July 2023, he was charged with domestic violence again, for being in violation of the abuse prevention act.

Naya Rivera was arrested for domestic battery

Naya Rivera portrayed the singing cheerleader Santana Lopez on Fox's "Glee," a role that received much praise from critics and fans alike. But before Rivera's depiction of Lopez took off, she began dating "Ray Donovan" actor Ryan Dorsey. She broke things off to focus on her career. In her memoir "Sorry Not Sorry," Rivera revealed that only weeks after their breakup, she got an abortion without her ex's knowledge. Four years later, Rivera and Dorsey rekindled their romance and married almost immediately. The two had one child together. Two years later, in 2016, the couple filed for divorce, but the two filed to rescind their proceedings in 2017. A source told outlets that they got back together for their son's sake. This did not last long. 

A year after the original divorce filing, Rivera was arrested and charged with domestic battery after striking her husband during an argument about their son. Once their divorce was finalized, the actors shared joint custody of their child until Rivera's unfortunate death.

On July 13, 2020, Rivera was found dead five days after going missing from a boat trip. An autopsy declared her death to be an accidental drowning. Dorsey filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of their son, who was with his mother when she died. The Dorseys and Ventura County reached a settlement.

Jaime King filed for a domestic violence prevention petition

Actor and model Jaime King started her career at 14. During her modeling years, she became addicted to heroin and lost her boyfriend, Davide Sorrenti, a fashion photographer, to kidney failure. After attending rehab, King hit Hollywood and starred in films like "White Chicks" and "Cheaper by the Dozen 2," but it was on the set of "Fanboys" that she met her future husband, director Kyle Newman. Their 12-year marriage was filled with trials. Their youngest son, Leo, had to undergo heart surgery when he was just an infant. And their eldest son James was struck by glass after a man jumped on the rear window of a car. They struggled with fertility issues due to King's endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome, but the pair persisted. That is until King filed not only for divorce but for a restraining order as well.

During their custody battle, King introduced a domestic violence prevention petition that alleged Newman had emotionally and physically abused her. Newman had his own allegations, claiming that King is "a chronic drug addict and alcoholic who refuses to acknowledge that she has a problem" (via People). He claimed his ex had endangered their children physically and was requesting an emergency order for full custody. King claimed he had stolen her boys from her. Part of King's request was granted, with the court issuing a temporary restraining order.

Mary-Kate Olsen's husband kicked her out during the pandemic

"Full House" star and fashion designer Mary-Kate Olsen, not to be confused with her equally famous twin Ashley Olsen, met her future husband Pierre Olivier Sarközy in 2012. Sarközy also comes from a famous family as he is the half-brother of the former president of France Nicolas Sarközy. Their May-December romance was subject to criticism, as he's over two decades her senior, but the couple still wed in 2015 in an intimate Manhattan ceremony. Like their wedding, their marriage was relatively private, but their divorce brought them back into the tabloids.

Olsen signed a divorce summons and complaint in 2020, a month after most of the world went into lockdown due to the coronavirus. Unfortunately, New York courts were not accepting divorce filings during quarantine. A month later, the Row designer filed an emergency divorce petition after learning her husband had terminated their lease and was demanding she vacate their NYC apartment with only four days' notice. "I am petrified that my husband is trying to deprive me of the home we have lived in and if he is successful, I will not only lose my home but I risk losing my personal property as well," Olsen shared in the divorce petition. Her emergency filing was denied. Fortunately, Olsen's twin Ashley has been by her side during what has been described as a heated divorce. The couple reached a settlement in 2021. 

Britney Spears' second divorce led to conservatorship

After her 55-hour marriage to Jason Allen Alexander in 2004, pop idol Britney Spears became involved with professional backup dancer Kevin Federline. The two got engaged three months after meeting. Their engagement resulted in excessive media scrutiny, as Federline had recently broken up with his pregnant partner Shar Jackson. The couple wed in 2004.

Apparently, Spears' last straw was Federline leaving his bride at home to fly to Vegas only three weeks after she'd given birth and later revealed he wouldn't visit her when pregnant. This led to a divorce and a vicious custody battle. In 2008, police were called to the couple's home after the young mom locked herself and her kids in the bathroom. After a number of missing court dates and psychiatric holds (and the pop culture staple of shaving her head), Federline was granted full custody, after which her father, Jamie Spears, infamously filed for a permanent conservatorship. When Spears' story came to light in the documentary "Britney vs. Spears," she alleged that she was forced to divorce Federline and that his addiction to marijuana only fueled their fighting. Although they now have shared custody, the parents have gone back and forth publicly about their boys.

As of this writing, Spears is on her third marriage to model Sam Agshari. Hopefully, it is a much more positive experience!

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues or has experienced domestic violence, contact the relevant resources below:

  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.