The Real Reason Hayden Panettiere Split From Brian Hickerson

In the summer of 2018, Hayden Panettiere split from her longtime fiancé, professional boxer Wladimir Klitschko. According to E! News, the pair had been engaged since 2013 — though they never set a wedding date — and welcomed daughter Kaya in 2014.

This breakup wasn't entirely a shock to paparazzi and gossip rags alike, who spotted the star without her ring two years before. At the time, Panettiere brushed off the Splitsville rumors. When they finally called it quits, it didn't take long for the Nashville star to move on. In fact, it seemed as though she had already checked out of the relationship before news of the breakup hit the tabloids, and the Daily Mail caught her walking barefoot while holding hands with a mystery man. Klitschko was nowhere in sight.

That mystery man turned out to be Brian Hickerson, a South Carolina-bred real estate agent and Hollywood hopeful. The couple subsequently embarked on a tumultuous relationship that lasted about a year and a half. Though they ultimately went their separate ways following a traumatic domestic violence arrest in February 2020, their romance regularly graced headlines for legal drama that was serious enough to worry Panettiere's family. Here's a breakdown of what actually led to the split.

Hayden Panettiere's relationship with Brian Hickerson seemed like a promising rebound

Brian Hickerson and Hayden Panettiere got off to a good start. It seemed like a healthy rebound from the TV star's nine-year relationship with Wladimir Klitschko. As far as the tabloids were concerned, the real estate agent swooped in on a white horse (or, more realistically, an Uber) in August 2018 for their public debut. At the time, TMZ called him a "knight in shining ball cap" for whisking the former Heroes actress out of the WeHo restaurant Craig's and away from the paparazzi.

According to a report from Us Weekly, the pair had already been quietly dating for "a couple of months." Their relationship allegedly hinged on partying together and "having fun." Later in August, the duo were caught at a screening of Breaking & Exiting, where Panettiere reportedly "seemed very happy and in great spirits." It was a welcome breath of fresh air after Panettiere's brutal struggle with postpartum depression, which sent her to rehab for a second time. According to the magazine's source, she and Hickerson "seemed cute together."

A frightening 2018 incident set the tone for the relationship

It didn't take long for Hayden Panettiere and Brian Hickerson's relationship to be marred with bad press. In late October 2018, about two months after their relationship went public, the couple racked up tabloid headlines following an alleged domestic altercation that took place in Hickerson's native home state of South Carolina. This would set the tone for the rest of their relationship.

According to TMZ, who obtained the police report, officers responded to "a call for assault and battery" and found "what appeared to be Hickerson chasing his father around the house with a Gatorade bottle in his hand." Hayden, who reportedly owned up to drinking with Hickerson's dad, frantically opened the door, and police "immediately" cuffed her new beau. The real estate agent was allegedly "uncooperative, refusing to give any personal information" because he was worried it'd negatively reflect on his actress girlfriend. His father was reportedly bleeding and severely bruised on his face, but claimed to have "just fallen" over.

Per Us Weekly''s report, Hickerson was adamant that he didn't assault his father, but he did admit that they got into "an argument because [his father] had been drinking too much." The report claimed that Panettiere and Hickerson's dad were both intoxicated, which Panettiere denied, according to TMZ. Though Hickerson was clearly riled up — allegedly "trembling and flexing his body" — both Panettiere and Hickerson's dad "were adamant that they were fine" and didn't need police intervention.

Things moved really fast with Brian Hickerson

Just six months into Hayden Panettiere's new relationship with Brian Hickerson, she already had marriage on the mind. Though she was engaged to her baby's father in the not-so-distant past, the actress believed that what she shared with the real estate agent was rare. When Us Weekly asked Panettiere whether she thought they'd tie the knot, she replied, "I think so. I hope so."

"I've lived a big life, I've met a lot of people. I learn something new from [Brian] every day, and that's something that not many people can provide me with," she told the magazine in February 2019. The interview came just three months before the real estate agent was charged with felony domestic violence and five months after police showed up at their door following that alleged altercation with Hickerson's dad.

At the time, the Nashville actress relished in their low-key hangs, which didn't always involve hurling over a railing after a night of hard partying. "I love being low key, being mellow, having experiences, having conversations, really in-depth conversations," Panettiere said. The brighter a star burns, the faster it burns out.

Brian Hickerson was arrested for felony domestic violence in 2019

Brian Hickerson's second alleged domestic incident was even more harrowing than the first. In May 2019, he was cuffed for domestic violence after spending a night out on the town with Hayden Panettiere. According to TMZ, the couple had been out drinking one night before getting into a physical argument once they returned home. Someone called the cops, though at the time it wasn't clear who, and officers arrived at the scene at around 2 a.m.

Sources who first spoke to TMZ claimed that Panettiere had "redness and marks" on her body — but these injuries allegedly proved to actually be much worse than originally reported. According to Radar Online, the actress had "injuries and bruises to her arms, ear, and neck area." Hickerson reportedly began the fight, and he was the one arrested "almost immediately after the altercation" and charged with felony domestic violence. He was released on a $50,000 bond, but was faced up to four years behind bars if convicted. A separate TMZ report revealed that Hickerson pleaded not guilty.

Alcohol seemed like a major issue in their relationship

After Brian Hickerson's felony domestic violence arrest, more disturbing information came out. From the looks of it, alcohol was likely a major problem in Hayden Panettiere's relationship. According to OK! magazine, the actress already sought treatment at a drug and alcohol rehab facility in 2016 when she was struggling to cope with postpartum depression. Following her split from Wladimir Klitschko, she was spotted having what Radar Online dubbed a "boozy breakdown." Per the report, the actress appeared to be vomiting over a railing outside of a restaurant in Malibu while Hickerson held her purse.

Hickerson seemed to share the same dangerous affinity for hard partying. According to Radar Online, the real estate agent had been "wreaking havoc" in their quiet neighborhood in Los Angeles prior to his May 2019 arrest. During one incident, he reportedly "lost control" of his SUV and smashed into "at least three parked cars" before driving into "a neighbor's gate" at around 2:30 a.m. As Radar described it, Hickerson's car was "completely turned around and wedged between a wooden gate and a car parked on the street." The accident was noisy enough to wake up said neighbors, and Hickerson allegedly begged them not to call the cops, pleading, "I'll buy you 12 cars." 

Meanwhile, a woman — who witnesses couldn't specifically identify as Panettiere — reportedly fled the scene. By the time cops showed up to investigate the alleged DUI, Hickerson was apparently gone, too. There were no charges filed at the time.

Hayden Panettiere had a protective order against Brian Hickerson

After Brian Hickerson was charged with felony domestic violence in May 2019, he and Hayden Panettiere split up — if only because they legally had to. According to People, a judge issued a protective order against the real estate agent after Hickerson announced that he was pleading not guilty. His hearing was meant to happen at the end of June, so presumably, the couple had a good month-long break to think about the course of their clearly toxic relationship.

As part of the protective order, Hickerson wasn't allowed to go within 100 yards of the Nashville actress. He also wasn't allowed to contact her — be it through phone, texts, or emails — or have firearms in his possession. According to Radar Online, the District Attorney claimed that this was just a reported incident of domestic violence, and their relationship saw many other incidents that flew under-the-radar. At the hearing, more details came out, including that Hickerson reportedly "hit her on the face, causing her to get dizzy."

Just a week before the protective order was put in place, Panettiere was spotted holding hands with Hickerson.

Hayden Panettiere reunited with Brian Hickerson after his case was dismissed

Five months after Brian Hickerson's domestic violence arrest, he and Hayden Panettiere were back together. So what happened? According to People, the real estate agent's case was "dismissed without prejudice" in late September 2019 — but the whole thing went bust on a technicality.

Per People's report, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office was forced to dismiss the case because they couldn't come up with a "material witness." In other words: Panettiere wouldn't testify and she was likely the only person who witnessed the alleged crime besides the neighbors who reportedly called the police after hearing a scuffle. When the case was dismissed, the protective order went with it, and Panettiere and Hickerson quickly reunited. People confirmed that the on-and-off couple were back on the following month, and paparazzi spotted the pair walking with each other through an airport. A source told E! News that neither of them supported the protective order and it had been the only thing keeping them apart.

Though the reunion reportedly concerned the Nashville star's family, Panettiere's attorney supported his client's decision. He told People that the actress was a "strong, intelligent woman who is capable of making her own decisions," but the happy reunion wouldn't last very long.

Hayden Panettiere's family deeply disapproved of her relationship

Another tough spot with Hayden Panettiere's relationship was the way her family felt about her new beau. According to numerous reports, they didn't approve of Brian Hickerson, and it's not hard to imagine why they would considering the litany of worrying press that's surrounded him for nearly the entirety of their relationship.

According to Us Weekly, her loved ones were reportedly extremely concerned that the actress may have still been contacting Hickerson despite the protective order. "It's disturbing to family and friends," a source told the magazine. "... There is not one single person out there who isn't concerned about Hayden. What Brian did to Hayden is unacceptable behavior, and it's not to be tolerated." Following the couple's post-protective order reunion, an insider told People that Panettiere's family still weren't "fans of Brian," largely because it was "clear" that he had "issues of his own." The source added, "Not to mention the anger issues, which is obviously a big one." Another insider told E! News that Panettiere's friends and family were "frustrated and disappointed" that she'd get back with the real estate agent.

As things devolved and Hickerson was arrested a second time for domestic violence — which we'll get to later — a source told Radar Online that Panettiere's family wanted the real estate agent "behind bars."

Brian Hickerson's family didn't approve of Hayden Panettiere

It wasn't just Hayden Panettiere's family who wanted Brian Hickerson out of the picture. Apparently, Hickerson's family didn't approve of the actress, either. A source that spoke to Us Weekly claimed the real estate agent's family was "concerned for his safety when he is with Hayden." Particularly, they were reportedly "terrified" that he'd be "accused of domestic violence" again (shock: he was, but one could argue that maybe if you don't want to be accused of violence, you shouldn't do anything that may be viewed as domestic violence). "Hayden and Brian are very toxic for each other," the source said.

All that alleged toxicity didn't seem to mean a whole lot to Panettiere. For a short while, it looked like the couple were truly trying to better themselves. According to Radar Online, the pair quit drinking alcohol following Hickerson's 2019 arrest to reportedly ease the real estate agent's "serious anger issues," which were allegedly exacerbated by drinking.

Things got complicated with Hayden Panettiere's daughter

Hayden Panettiere's relationship gets even more complicated when you factor in her daughter, Kayla. It seemed like Brian Hickerson was driving a wedge between the mother-daughter duo, and a lot of this likely had to do with the fact that her ex, Wladimir Klitschko, reportedly didn't want the real estate agent around his kid.

According to Us Weekly, Hickerson allegedly "tested Vlad's patience and kindness." He reportedly believed his ex's new beau was a "user and overall bad guy," who was "controlling Hayden and enabling all of her bad habits." At the time, Kayla was living with him in the Ukraine, and he supposedly didn't want Hickerson near her. "When Hayden visits it has to be without him," a source told the outlet.

From the outside, it seemed like Panettiere at least partly agreed, though she didn't outright admit it. A separate Us Weekly report from February 2019 claimed the actress "hasn't had much time" with her daughter, because "she knows the child being with her is not the best for [Kayla right now]." The source said, "It's a sad situation."

Brian Hickerson was arrested a second time for domestic violence

Less than a year after Brian Hickerson was first arrested for felony domestic violence, the real estate agent was cuffed yet again after an alleged dispute with Hayden Panettiere turned violent. This seemed to be the final straw for the Nashville actress.

According to Us Weekly, who obtained the police records, the harrowing event happened around 2:30 a.m. on Valentine's Day in February 2020. Police received a "concerned call" and showed up at the house on Indian Springs Drive, where Hickerson was reportedly in the driveway claiming Panettiere was "saying he beat the f**k out of me." He allegedly would not tell police whether or not he struck the actress, but after investigating, they believed he hit her "with a closed fist on the right side of her face." Panettiere reportedly told police that he "'threw her around and punched her." As far as physical injuries go, the star's face was allegedly "red and swollen," and she "had a scrape and swelling on her left hand."

Hickerson was ultimately hit with two charges: domestic battery and interfering with a police officer. The latter charge stemmed from when he reportedly "refused to identify himself." At the time of this writing, Hickerson is out on a $5,000 bond, and it's not clear what will happen with his charges. According to Radar Online, there were witnesses this time around, and Panettiere's family was attempting to show support for the actress and "keep her from wavering" in court.

Hayden Panettiere is healing after her split

Despite the trauma Hayden Panettiere may have endured during her relationship, it seems like things are looking up. In June 2020, multiple sources told Us Weekly that the actress has been thriving since her split from Brian Hickerson. "She's in a good place right now," one insider claimed. "She's on the path to recovery."

The tabloid also confirmed that Panettiere officially "cut ties" with the real estate agent after their February altercation. This was a huge step forward from the year before, when her family worried that she was still communicating with Hickerson despite her temporary protective order. They have reportedly not had contact since the final incident, and Hickerson allegedly moved back home to South Carolina, far away from Panettiere's home in Los Angeles. "Friends are praying this is the end of her journey with him," the insider added.

Those close to the actress aren't the only ones who noticed Panettiere was moving on. She joined Instagram again and was reportedly trying to start working and "being creative again." A second source told Us Weekly that the actress "has done a 180-degree turn since her terrible ordeal with Brian" and was "calmer and more relaxed." Here's looking to Panettiere's bright future.