Forget Forever, Batman

updated 08/07/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/07/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

FOR SEVEN APPARENTLY TRANQUIL years, the marriage of Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley-Kilmer seemed a study in domestic con-tentedness. The California-bred Batman Forever hero and the British-born star of the 1994 Scarlett miniseries cherished their low-profile life together, which revolved around the 30-acre Tesuque, N.Mex., ranch they shared with their 3-year-old daughter, Mercedes. While Whalley-Kilmer rode horses, her husband—a distant relative of Joyce Kilmer {Trees)—would compose poetry. When their son Jack was born eight weeks ago, the Kilmers' lot seemed downright Rockwellian. "Marriage and kids keep me grounded," Kilmer, 35, has said. "Instead of partying, I go home to see my family."

Time apart may, in fact, have contributed to the breakup. While he was promoting Batman Forever in Europe two weeks ago, British tabloids began trumpeting Kilmer's marital woes. The actor denied any problems but admitted, "The only downside to Batman is that I didn't see much of my home for a while." Then, on July 21, Whalley-Kilmer, 33, filed for divorce in Los Angeles, citing irreconcilable differences and seeking custody of both children. The couple had no further comment on the split, but last week Kilmer's brother Mark—a 37-year-old mental-health worker from California who says he has been estranged from Val over a financial dispute—told London's News of the World, "Things have not been right between Val and Joanne for months."

Making Batman certainly uprooted the couple, who rented Faye Dun-away's Malibu home last September for the five-month shoot. Back in Santa Fe, Kilmer was at his wife's hospital bedside for Jack's birth, but he soon returned to L.A.—alone—for the Batman premiere.

The rift marks a sad turn for a couple who once seemed touched by kismet. The Doors star first laid eyes on his future wife in 1983, when, while filming in London, he spotted her in a play. For days, Kilmer has said, he loitered outside the theater to wait for the actress but never worked up the courage to approach her. It was in 1987, on the New Zealand set of Willow, George Lucas's medieval fantasy, that the two formally met as costars, although Kilmer at first didn't realize she was the woman with whom he had been so infatuated. This time he set about courting her with theater tickets and flowers. The two were married in February 1988.

As news of their troubles broke in London, Kilmer detoured from his publicity rounds to hide out in Ireland with his longtime friend Johnny Depp, who was there with Marlon Brando filming the since-canceled Divine Rapture. On July 20, a bearded Kilmer (later donning a hat and sunglasses) arrived in Port Douglas, Australia to begin shooting The Island of Dr. Moreau, also with Brando. Joanne remains in L.A. with the children. "She is hoping," says her lawyer Dennis M. Wasser, "that issues with her husband will be resolved amicably."

KAREN BRAILSFORD in Los Angeles MICHAEL HAEDERLE in New Mexico and DENNIS PASSA in Australia

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