For the past five months, it's been the same story: While Madonna
is on one continent making music, working on her Malawi documentary or planning her upcoming tour, her husband, Guy Ritchie, is in another part of the world tending to his own needs. Every few months they reunite—for a photo op, at least. The weekend of June 28 was no different. Madonna
was in New York City taking a break from rehearsals to attend services at the Kabbalah Centre with her kids Lourdes, Rocco and David; meanwhile, in London Ritchie was also attending Kabbalah services and spending time with family friend Trudie Styler. On Monday, June 30, he boarded a flight bound for New York City—and his wife.
This time the reunion had a sense of urgency. The British press had spent the past five days reporting that Madonna
, 49, and Ritchie, 39, had consulted separate divorce lawyers (she chose Fiona Shackleton, who represented Sir Paul McCartney, said The Times
and the Daily Mirror
), a story that had first surfaced in early June. They pointed out that neither was wearing a wedding band and noted that during their last public appearance at the Cannes Film Festival, the couple appeared unhappy. When asked if Madonna
and Ritchie are breaking up or even just having problems, Madonna
's rep Liz Rosenberg—who only recently insisted the couple were still happily married—told PEOPLE, "No comment."
So is Ritchie simply a devoted husband and father joining his family after months of on-and-off separation? Or is this trip part of a plan to work things out with his wife of 7 1/2 years? Perhaps a bit of both. According to sources, Ritchie's visit was planned in advance and has nothing to do with a split—a fact reiterated by his father, John, 79. "I had lunch with Guy two days ago," he told PEOPLE on June 26, "and he told me categorically that there is not a divorce and that they are quite happy as a couple." (In an interview with the U.K's Mail on Sunday
, Guy's mother, Amber, Lady Leighton, called the divorce speculation "total tosh"—i.e. nonsense.)
Even the pair's missing wedding bands are not a sign of trouble. "Madonna
has rarely worn a wedding band," says Rosenberg. (Photo evidence proves the same goes for Ritchie.) As for the months apart, such spells are common in celebrity marriages—Madonna
sings on her new CD Hard Candy
, "I guess we're at our best when we're miles away"—and neither party is said to be distraught. "She's in great spirits," says a source close to Madonna
, dismissing the split talk. "Everything seems normal."
"Normal," of course, is a relative term. Though the couple may not be ready to file for divorce just yet, several sources say they are not as happy as they were when they wed at Scotland's 19th-century Skibo Castle in 2000. "They've been having trouble for a while," reveals a Madonna
source who, contradicting other insiders, considers Ritchie's trip "a last-ditch effort to save the marriage." Seconds a source close to the singer: "Things have been bad for ages." And they seemed to get worse this year. Ritchie was noticeably absent from several major events where "the missus," as he likes to call Madonna
, was either a host or an honoree—most notably her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March. Equally noteworthy: She didn't mention him during her acceptance speech. (A week later, Rosenberg told the media that Ritchie couldn't make the event because of work commitments in the U.K.)
According to an insider, one source of strain was son David's adoption from Malawi, a process that Madonna
began in 2006 and was finalized on May 28. In a Nightline
interview in May, she hinted that her husband was hesitant, remarking that men "always take a little bit longer to catch up, don't they?" The source confirms Ritchie's reluctance: "He did it to make her happy."
met Ritchie in 1998, they seemed like a mismatched couple: She's an extrovert from Detroit who likes to be in the spotlight; he's a low-key Brit who likes to hang out at pubs. At the time they married, British bookmakers gave the couple a 1 in 3 chance of lasting five years. Even though she proudly wore a jacket emblazoned with "Mrs. Ritchie" in crystals at the premiere of Ritchie's film Snatch
in 2001, a source says Madonna
has never been a submissive wife, explaining, "It's her way or no other way."
Over the years, as Madonna
, who turns 50 in August, continues to thrive as an artist, her husband's career has stalled. (Directing her in 2002's clunker Swept Away
didn't boost his Hollywood credibility.) Now, instead of gushing about the "enormous amount of respect" she has for Ritchie (as she did to PEOPLE in 2000), Madonna
speaks of him less adoringly in interviews. During the Nightline
interview, which took place in Cannes, Madonna
was asked if Ritchie was around and she said wryly, "Yeah, I think he's in a bar somewhere. While I'm working he's playing." As for who wears the pants in the family, Madonna
quipped to New York's Daily News
last year, "Well, he sometimes wears a kilt."
But a source maintains Ritchie isn't a pushover in this marriage: "Madonna
is a tough, strong woman. And he's tough too. So when you get two strong people together, that can be difficult." A divorce, if it ever comes to that, could get ugly. There are three kids involved—and a lot of money. (It's unclear whether they signed a prenup.) In 2007 Forbes
's worth at $325 million and since then she has signed a $120 million deal with Live Nation. Then there are several multimillion-dollar homes, including a soon-to-be-expanded Manhattan duplex, where Ritchie headed as soon as he landed in New York. As for whether this reunion will last, a source close to Madonna
admits, "They don't know themselves what's going to happen."