Tom Arnold – known to millions as the big, loud, funny guy from movies such as True Lies and Nine Months, is trying to hold back the tears.
“My son has seen more cops than most inner-city kids,” he tells Radar in a world-exclusive interview. “I try to protect my children as much as possible, but they’re very sensitive about this. My daughter had just turned three when her mother walked out – and she’s never seen her mom and dad hug. And when the woman that they love more than anything behaves in this abusive, inappropriate manner in front of them, it’s hard to reconcile that.”
Arnold, 62, has been embroiled in what he claims is an increasingly bitter conflict with ex-wife Ashley Groussman that has seen her file a series of Domestic Violence Restraining Orders against the movie star, and now results in his facing contempt of court charges – which, if he’s found guilty, could result in jail time.
And caught up in the middle of the battle are the couple’s children, Jax, 7, and Quinn, 5.
Now, speaking exclusively, Arnold reveals just how devastating the split with Groussman has been for him financially, emotionally, and physically – and why his biggest fear is the lasting impact it will have on his kids.
“My attorney says to me: ‘just say no to her’,” he tells Radar. “I try to say no, except when it’s about the kids because then it hurts the kids. My dream is to co-parent with her and have it just be about the kids.
“Every judge has said that the worst thing you can do to kids is to have this animosity, it makes them feel terrible, it’s confusing for them. They’re aware of what’s going on.”
Arnold and Groussman met in 2008 and married in Maui the following year. Although their divorce was only finalized last July, Arnold admits that she first told him the marriage was over in 2017.
“She said, ‘I want a divorce’, and I said that’s great, you should have your own life, let’s settle this without lawyers, stay in the house. I had no prenuptial agreement so she had access to everything, and so we started that process. The house was big enough that two people could live in it and I didn’t want to leave the kids. I was just: ‘I’m not gonna leave the kids, we’re gonna get this figured out.’”
The couple managed to keep up the pretense of a happy family for another year, with Arnold even moving into a makeshift bedroom in the garage, until at Christmas 2018 something finally snapped, and Groussman walked out. Arnold says now that he didn’t see it coming.
“I remember we had the best Christmas, because my son had captured Santa Claus on his spy cam,” he says. “I don’t have to tell you how much work that was for me just to get that done and make it believable… and he wakes up at 4.30am and he looks at the iPad to see the video of what happened the night before and he was like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s Santa!’ and he ran into his mom’s room and woke everyone up, ‘I got him! I got Santa!’ he was so excited. They had a lot of presents and we sat there and opened them, the four of us, and it felt like everything was great.
“The next day they were going to go on a trip with their mom and I said to her, ‘on this trip please make eye contact with Quinn, please pay attention to Quinn", and she just said, 'I feel that’s a threat’. And she said ‘I’m calling the police’.”
If his wife was serious, Arnold certainly didn’t think so, and instead retired with both children for a nap to catch up on some sleep after their early-morning excitement.
“An hour later I hear pounding at the door and I hear her downstairs in the hall saying, ‘Oh my god, he’s violent, he’s drunk’,” he remembers. “I hear three cops pounding up the stairs and right before they get into the bedroom I jump out of the bed and get the door and say: ‘Stop! Don’t wake up the kids, let’s go downstairs’. I sit there with these guys for at least an hour trying to explain what happened.”
Eventually, the officers were persuaded to call their supervisor to review security camera footage of the incident. After the tapes allegedly corroborated Arnold’s story, Groussman left the house for good.
What followed appears to have been an increasingly aggressive campaign by Groussman, according to Arnold, to discredit him and gain sole custody of their children.
Official documents and video footage seen by Radar show repeated incidents where Groussman has called the police after perceived deviations from their child custody or handover arrangements, and in August of 2019 she filed the first of two Domestic Violence Restraining Orders against Arnold. In that application she cited his “erratic and abusive behavior”, with examples including a failure to brush Quinn’s hair before school. The application was thrown out by the court.
“And then she filed another DVRO in January 2020,” says Arnold, “and the judge told her lawyer that it was garbage and a violation of the Californian domestic abuse law that this judge helped craft.
“The judge said no more, no more cops, and we signed an agreement, and I thought, ok, things are gonna be good now, we got this agreement in place giving 50/50 custody of the kids… and then the next week she called the police again.”
Worse was to come. The strain of repeated court appearances, dealing with numerous police visits, and trying to maintain a semblance of normality for the children’s sake began to take a terrible toll.
In February last year, Arnold was rushed to hospital with massive organ failure. He ended up spending 11 days in critical care and was lucky to leave hospital alive.
“After I came out of the hospital with that and saw the kids again, I thought, you know, that’s a good time to say, let’s put down the weapons, life is short,” he says.
Sadly, his ex-wife did not share his sentiment.
“That day I went to her place to pick up the kids and I came into the lobby of her building – and my kids had seen me for the first time in 18 days and they ran up to me and we were hugging… and then on the balcony above us I heard, ‘He’s banned from this building! He’s banned from this building!’ I knew then that it was going to continue.”
Since then, the campaign has stepped up a gear, with Arnold saying local police even have given him a number to ring every time Groussman calls the cops on him. The actor’s main concern is that, following one incident where she falsely claimed he had a gun, any such incident could end up with tragic consequences.
“I’ve been lucky because I’ve always been able to pull footage of what she said happened and hand it over to them,” he says, “but you know a cop could come in hot and I got my babies there… it’s a dangerous situation.”
In July last year, after the rejection of her Domestic Violence Restraining Orders, Groussman had her ex-husband served with criminal charges relating to contempt of court. Radar has seen her original filing, in which she cited no fewer than 145 counts of contempt relating to issues such as FaceTime calls and social media posts, claiming that they violated their custody agreement.
“They moved from domestic violence, which had got them into trouble for abusing the Californian domestic violence law, and so they were like, what else can we do? Contempt is not a family court issue, it’s a criminal thing, so they were like: we’re gonna get him in jail. And she openly asked the judge to send me to jail, and the judge asked her if she thought that was the best thing for the kids, and she said yes.”
The judge has subsequently struck off 140 of those counts, but Arnold still faces five charges – and could still see jail time if found guilty.
As well as the strain on his health and effect on his career, the saga has cost Arnold nearly $2 million – money he had put away as a retirement fund for their children. It has left the actor unable to even afford an attorney and having to represent himself in court.
Perhaps most extraordinarily, he maintains that despite it all, he doesn’t feel animosity towards his ex-wife.
“Believe me, I can be hard to live with, there’s no doubt,” he says, “but it’s over now and it should be about these kids.
“She’s lied so much to so many people that she needs to tell this narrative about me that’s not true just to keep this thing going.
“But the thing is, she’s the mother of my kids. She gave birth to my kids. I can’t get over that. I have a love for her because of that, I have a lot of compassion for her, even when she did those awful things.
“But at some point you have to defend yourself – and you have to defend your kids. At first I was like, what did I do to make her so mad? And now it’s like, what did the kids do to make her so mad? Because it really affects them.”
And whatever his ex-wife’s motives for the ongoing battle might be, for Tom Arnold at least, his money and reputation mean nothing when compared to the happiness of his children.
“Sharon Stone has been mentoring me through this custody mess,” he says. “She’s given me a lot of great advice. Two years ago she sat me down and said ‘I know who and what you’re dealing with. This will cost you every penny you have.’ I said I didn’t want to spend everything I have. Sharon said, ‘what do you want more, your money or your kids?’
“I said, my kids of course. She was right.”