Danny Masterson grants custody of daughter to estranged wife Bijou Phillips: The latest

Danny Masterson arrives at to court alongside wife Bijou Phillips for his retrial for allegedly raping three women between 2001 and 2003.
Danny Masterson arrives at court alongside wife Bijou Phillips for his retrial for allegedly raping three women between 2001 and 2003. (Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Danny Masterson has granted estranged wife Bijou Phillips custody of their daughter.

According to legal documents obtained by People on Monday, the former star of That '70s Show, who is in a California prison serving a term of 30 years to life, has given Phillips full legal and physical custody of 9-year-old daughter Fianna Francis Masterson. He has requested future visitation rights.

The move comes a month after Phillips, 43, filed for divorce from Masterson, 47, following his conviction on rape charges.

Here's a look at the key developments.

Phillips and Masterson splitting during "unfortunate time."

Phillips filed for divorce from Masterson on Sept. 19, less than two weeks after the actor was sentenced to decades in prison. It was a surprising move as Phillips remained by Masterson's side throughout both of his rape trials. Phillips's attorney, Peter Lauzon, released the following statement to the media:

Ms. Phillips has decided to file for divorce from her husband during this unfortunate time. Her priority remains with her daughter. This period has been unimaginably hard on the marriage and the family. Mr. Masterson was always present for Ms. Phillips during her most difficult times of her life. Ms. Phillips acknowledges that Mr. Masterson is a wonderful father to their daughter.

The date of separation is "TBD."

According to the legal filing, Phillips listed the date of separation as "TBD," or to be determined. She cited the usual "irreconcilable differences" as the reason for divorce. The singer is seeking spousal support and attorney fees. She wants her legal name restored to Bijou Phillips. She is asking for legal and physical custody of their child, but noted that she will allow Fianna to visit Masterson in prison.

The actors tied the knot in 2011 after eight years together. They are one month shy of their 12th wedding anniversary. The Ranch star began dating Phillips shortly after he was accused of raping three women in separate incidents. (He was convicted in May on two of three counts of forcible rape as the jury could not unanimously decide on the third charge.)

Masterson has declined to comment.

Shawn Holley, one of Masterson's criminal defense attorneys, has not yet responded to requests for comment from Yahoo Entertainment. In a text message, she told journalist Yashar Ali that she does not intend to issue a statement on the actor's behalf.

Phillips's filing came days after insiders claimed she had no intention to divorce her husband.

Just five days before she petitioned for divorce, a source told People that Phillips was "distraught" after Masterson's sentence, but did not plan to make any kind of move legally.

"She has had a very difficult time since the conviction," the insider claimed. "She loves Danny and has no plans to file for divorce. She will be by his side for it all."

Masterson's attorney previously said they intend to appeal the conviction. The actor, who did not speak at either the rape trial or during his sentencing hearing, has been steadfast in his innocence. He is staring at a sentence of between 30 years and life in a California state prison.

"She is in touch with his lawyer," the source added of Phillips. "They are planning appeals. She tries to stay hopeful."

Clearly, something changed within those last five days.

Phillips's move could be strategic.

While Phillips's filing caught many by surprise, especially as she and Masterson displayed a very public united front during his legal battles and was noticeably emotional in court upon his conviction in May, there is a well-worn game plan when it comes to celebrity couples involved in criminal cases. As noted by New York divorce law firm Bikel Rosenthal and Schanfield, Huma Abedin filed for divorce as then-husband Anthony Weiner entered a guilty plea for sending explicit pictures of himself to a minor while Georgina Chapman divorced Harvey Weinstein as he became embroiled in a series of sexual assault cases. According to the firm there are three key reasons behind such moves:

  1. "By filing for divorce, the innocent spouse attempts to protect his or her own brand and good name."

  2. "Filing for divorce when there is a criminal charge on the horizon also serves as financial protection," including keeping "the innocent spouse’s share of the assets protected from civil claims brought by the defendant spouse’s victims. The assets can be divided before any civil suit can be filed."

  3. "Agreeing to a settlement that provides the innocent spouse with a larger share can provide long-term financial protection for the innocent spouse and the children."

What about Scientology?

Phillips has been a member of the Church of Scientology alongside Masterson.

"If Phillips intends to remain a Scientologist in good standing, she would have had to receive permission from a Scientology ethics officer to file for divorce," reports Ali, who broke the news of Leah Remini's Scientology lawsuit. "That ethics officer would have been guided directly by Scientology’s leader David Miscavige on how to handle the matter."

Court artist detailed Masterson and Philips's last moments together.

Mona Shafer Edwards captured the viral courtroom sketch of Masterson blowing a kiss to Phillips at the end of the sentencing hearing.

"No one noticed it," Edwards told Yahoo of Masterson's air kiss. "Everybody's taking notes. He got up to be led out — he was not shackled or handcuffed at all, which has been reported — and I was sitting right behind his wife and he winked at her and then he blew a kiss."

Edwards noted that Masterson "did not seem terribly distraught," noting she's "been looking at him now for two years."

This story was originally published on Sept. 19, 2023 and has been updated with new information.