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Legal Expert Tells Us Why Bijou Phillips Likely Filed For Divorce From Danny Masterson Days After His Sentencing

Photo: adventtr / Getty Images via Canva; Kathy Hutchins, s_bukley / Shutterstock 
danny masterson, bijou phillips, divorce, jail

In the wake of former actor Danny Masterson’s 30 years to life prison sentence, he not only lost his career and the admiration of his fans, but also his marriage as well. 

Bijou Phillips, who has been married to Masterson for 12 years, filed for divorce on Monday, September 18, 2023 in a Santa Barbara California court, according to documents obtained by PEOPLE Magazine. 

The timing of Phillips’ decision to divorce Masterson has some people questioning if it was the right call, especially in the midst of recent events, and according to one legal expert, it was a decision that was likely perfectly calculated and planned in advance. 

Danny Masterson’s wife Bijou Phillips filed for divorce just two weeks after he was convicted of raping two women in the early 2000s. 

On September 7, 2023, Phillips was in the courtroom alongside Masterson’s family members when he was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison after being found guilty of raping two women. 

While Masterson did not display much of a reaction to the verdict, Los Angeles reporter Meghann Cuniff reported that his family members were “fighting back tears” while Phillips allegedly started to cry upon hearing the decision. 

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A source disclosed to PEOPLE that the verdict was one Phillips did not see coming. “She wasn’t prepared for the verdict. She never expected him to be found guilty. She couldn’t believe that he was taken into custody right away and remanded,” they shared. 

As he was being taken out of the courtroom, Masterson reportedly turned back to blow a kiss at his distraught wife. 

For many people, Phillips' decision to file for divorce was out of character considering her devotion to their relationship and her emotional reaction to Masterson's guilty verdict.

However, attorney and legal expert, Holly Davis, believes that Phillips’ decision was ultimately a sound one that would protect her in the future. 

Austin-based family law attorney Holly Davis explained to YourTango that by divorcing Masterson now, Phillips’ assets will be protected. 

"It is very typical for people who are married to get a divorce when one of them is imprisoned,” Davis says. Marriages have a low probability of surviving when one spouse is in prison. According to research from Florida State University's College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, each year of imprisonment increases the odds that an inmate's marriage will end in divorce — 32% to be exact.

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“One of the reasons for this," Davis explains, "is to protect the assets of the non-imprisoned spouse." She went on to say, "In a divorce, Danny and Bijou are going to divide their estate and, once the divorce is finalized, certain bank accounts, real estate, and other assets are going to be Bijou’s separate property." 

More importantly, perhaps, the divorce will protect these assets from potential legal troubles down the road. “Any future lawsuits against Danny won’t be able to look to joint assets for payment, because Bijou will no longer be married to Danny,” Davis stresses. 

Davis also adds that Phillips may have stuck by Masterson throughout the trial for ‘strategic reasons’ before a final verdict was determined. 

Since the moment her husband’s victims came forward, Phillips could have decided that she was going to end her marriage, but she remained devoted to her family and to Masterson's claim of innocence. It is important to note that timing is everything, and with Masterson’s trial being a significant part of the public spotlight, the distraction of a divorce could have influenced the jury. 

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“It is possible that they decided to postpone any divorce lawsuit until the jury trial had been resolved and he had been sentenced,” Davis claims. “In this instance, Bijou would have the option to delay divorce proceedings if she thought it might be a benefit to his jury trial to avoid the distraction of a divorce, and the possibility that the plaintiff’s counsel would try to use her as a witness against Danny in the jury trial.” 

Crimes as serious as Masterson’s have little room for excuses.

Even if these last few years have been agonizing for Phillips and the decision was likely not an easy one to come to, she ultimately did what was right for her and her daughter’s future and well-being. 

Her actions also demonstrate her strength to leave behind everything she has known about the man she once loved for over a decade to start a new beginning, and stands as an ideogram of female empowerment. 

If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual harassment, assault and/or abuse, please visit RAINN.org for resources or contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

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Megan Quinn is a writer at YourTango who covers entertainment and news, self, love, and relationships.