A Timeline of Erika & Tom Girardi's Relationship, from Friendship to Fame to a Surprise Split
The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star filed for divorce from her famed lawyer husband on Nov. 3
Getting to Know Each Other
Erika, 49, and Tom, 82, first met over two decades ago, when she was a cocktail waitress at the L.A. restaurant Chasen's, where Tom was a regular.
Then 27, divorced and with a young son, Thomas, now 27, "marriage was the furthest thing from my mind," Girardi told PEOPLE in 2018.
But fate intervened, and after a year-long friendship, Tom, a powerhouse attorney famed for the landmark case that inspired the film Erin Brokovich, asked her out.
Their connection was immediate. "Tom did not grow up with a silver spoon in his mouth," says Girardi, who shared her own painful past in her book, Pretty Mess. "We both came up the hard way. And we appreciate growth."
A few months after they met, Girardi moved in; six months after that, Tom proposed. They wed in 1999, at the same restaurant where they met.
It was the second marriage for Erika, who was previously married to ex-husband Tommy Zizzo, and the third marriage for Tom.
Addressing Their Age Difference
Erika was 27 when she met Tom, 33 years her senior.
And though she admits that early on in their relationship she was judged by their age difference, ("Everyone thought I was marrying him to have a baby and lock down the money, as ugly as that sounds"), Girardi said in 2018, "I see it less and less now."
'An Enigma Wrapped in a Riddle and Cash'
In 2015, Erika was introduced as the newest cast member on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
The couple largely kept their relationship off camera, but Tom made occasional appearances throughout the subsequent five seasons.
In a 2017 episode, Erika discusses her marriage in an interview that plays during a scene of the pair at dinner.
"People are always like, 'Oh you guys don't see each other a lot,' but when we do see each other, it's 100 percent full-on attention," Erika says. "This is what people don't understand: It's not a detriment to the relationship, it's actually helpful. It's better than someone being in your face all the time and you're not even present."
A Tale of Two Personas
When Erika was introduced on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, she offered viewers not just one Housewife to love, but two.
There was Girardi herself — the down-to-earth, loving wife of a top-trial lawyer who rises above the drama and always has an understanding ear for her fellow Housewives to seek for advice. And then there was her musical alter-ego Erika Jayne — the bold, sexpot singer with legions of dedicated fans and an unapologetic attitude.
"I wanted to create again," Girardi told PEOPLE in 2018 of how Erika Jayne came to be. "I had to be brave enough to say, 'I'm not fulfilled.' "
She also admitted that starting a music career at 35 raised some eyebrows.
"People told me I was insane," she said. "Erika Jayne was born out of rebellion. I like to break the rules."
Erika gave insight in a 2017 interview as to what made her then 17-year marriage solid, stressing the importance of mutual interests.
"You have to be friends. You have to be friends and you have to have a common ground," Erika told Bravo's The Daily Dish. "You have to like the same things. You have to see the world the same way. You have to have the same interests. And when you are genuinely rooting for the other guy — you know Tom is very supportive of me and I am very supportive of him — and I think that's what makes it work."
Answering the Question Everyone Asks
"It's OK. People always ask that. They're always [like] what's going on? Is it 20-year-old f---ing all day long? No," she said. However, she said the arrangement was fine with her. "We got bills to pay."
Spotlight on Erika
In 2019, it was announced that Girardi would star as Roxie Hart in the Broadway production of Chicago (which was cut short in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic). Her rehearsals were documented on season 10 of RHOBH, and castmates Kyle Richards, Lisa Rinna, Dorit Kemsley, Teddi Mellencamp Arroyave and Sutton Stracke flew to N.Y.C. for Erika's Broadway debut.
Tom — it was later revealed — never got to see Erika perform as Roxie.
"Well, you know, Tom wasn't able to come to the show," Erika said during the season 10 reunion. "He was gonna come the last week and COVID happened, so he never saw the show."
On Nov. 3, 2020, Erika filed for divorce from her husband of 21 years according to documents obtained by The Blast.
"After much consideration, I have decided to end my marriage to Tom Girardi," Erika said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE. "This is not a step taken lightly or easily. I have great love and respect for Tom and for our years and the lives we built together."
"It is my absolute wish to proceed through this process with respect and with the privacy that both Tom and I deserved," she added. "I request others give us that privacy as well."
E! News was first to report the news of the split.
Following her decision to file for divorce, Erika asked to be paid spousal support by Tom and requested to terminate the court's ability to award spousal support to her ex, according to Erika's divorce filing obtained by PEOPLE. Furthermore, she has asked that Tom pays for her attorney's fees.
Reps for the former couple had no comment.
A month later, in December 2020, Tom responded to Erika's filing and cited "irreconcilable differences" as the reason for the split, and asked to terminate the court's ability to award spousal support to Erika. He has also requested that attorney's fees and costs be paid by Erika.
Reps for Tom and Erika did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.
Tom and Erika Get Sued
A month after their divorce news, the former couple got sued for allegedly using their split to embezzle money.
According to a complaint filed in an Illinois federal court on Dec. 2, 2020, Erika and Tom were sued by law firm Edelson PC on behalf of several families who lost loved ones in a Boeing plane crash. The documents, obtained by PEOPLE, detail how the two allegedly embezzled settlement funds meant to help the families of victims on Lion Air Flight 610.
"Tom has resorted to embezzling the proceeds of settlements that should have been directed to his clients — including, as the basis for this Complaint, the widows and orphans who lost loved ones in the tragic crash of Lion Air Flight 610 — in order to continue funding his and Erika's lavish Beverly Hills lifestyles," the documents state.
Tom's law firm, Girardi & Keese (GK), is also named in the suit, which claims both Tom and the firm "are on the verge of financial collapse and locked in a downward spiral of mounting debts and dwindling funds."
Edelson PC and Erika declined to comment on the case, and Tom did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.
Following the events, Tom's younger brother Robert was granted temporary conservatorship in February until March 30, as part of his pursuit to a permanent extension. Tom was also diagnosed with dementia and late-onset Alzheimer's disease in March.
The Former Couple List Their Pasadena Mansion
Amid a slew of legal troubles, the two listed their $13 million Pasadena mansion with Ted Clark & Heather Lillard at Compass in May. The stunning 74,914 square-foot estate, built in 1928, boasts four bedrooms and nine bathrooms, a library, a chapel and a guest suite with its own private entrance. The property also includes a pool, pavilion, multiple patios and rose garden.
PEOPLE previously reported that Erika has been living in another Los Angeles residence since filing for divorce from Tom in November. Her new place was last valued at $1.5 million, according to Realtor.com.
The Housewife and the Hustler
Tom and Erika's legal controversies were explored in a new ABC News Originals documentary that was released on HULU on June 14.
In a teaser for the special, titled The Housewife and the Hustler, various legal experts, those accusing Tom of embezzlement and Real Housewives stars speak on the scandals surrounding the former couple, all of which came to light following Erika's divorce filing last year.
Erika Girardi's Attorneys Withdraw from Representing Her
Erika's attorneys have moved to withdraw from representing her following the release of the documentary. According to court documents obtained by PEOPLE, Dinsmore & Shohl LLP — the law firm representing her in Tom's Chapter 7 Bankruptcy case — filed paperwork to withdraw as her counsel on June 15. Erika was notified of their withdrawal the day before, the same day the Hulu documentary dropped.
"The relationship of trust and confidence that is essential to a properly functioning attorney-client relationship has broken down and, in the good faith assessment of counsel, the relationship is irreparable," the lawyers wrote in the documents.
The firm also said they have advised Erika to seek new representation and have warned her of "the potential consequences of not timely securing replacement counsel."
As of the June 15 filing, the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star had not identified new counsel to the firm.
A rep for Erika did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.