Hollywood golden couple Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston have announced their separation after four and a half years of marriage.

The announcement of their split follows months of tabloid sepeculation about spousal ups and downs, including reports that Pitt, 41, wanted to become a father but Aniston, 35, was reluctant to start a family.

Pitt, one of Hollywood's most sought-after leading men, and Aniston, who became a household name on the long-running NBC television comedy Friends, met on a dinner date in 1998.

They were married in a lavish, celebrity-studded wedding in the seaside California resort of Malibu on July 29, 2000.

News of their break-up came in an understated announcement released late on Friday afternoon through People magazine.

In a statement the pair insisted: ‘this decision is a result of much thoughtful consideration. We happily remain committed and caring friends with great love and admiration for one another. We ask in advance for your kindness and sensitivity in the coming months.’