Although a native New Yorker, Catherine spent some of her most formative years in London, where her mother still lives. She is the daughter of the business man Howard Oxenberg (a New York City dress manufacturer) and Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia and Serbia (born in Belgrade, Serbia, in 1936). Catherine's sister Christina Oxenberg (born 1962), is a writer, and they also have a younger half-brother, Nicholas Balfour (born 1970).
Catherine's parents split up when she was six and divorced in 1969, and Princess Elizabeth married the English banker Neil Balfour (born in Peru in 1934) the same year, moving with him to England. From the age of eight, Catherine lived and went to schools there, then in 1977, when she was sixteen, her mother and step-father separated and were divorced. In the mean time, Catherine had moved back to the U.S. to go to St Paul's School, Concord, New Hampshire, a smart prep school. She graduated from St Paul's in 1979 summa cum laude and went on to Harvard. She transferred to Columbia, where she read psychology, philosophy and mythology. While at Columbia, Catherine became a successful fashion model, before trying her hand at acting. Her first acting coach was Richard Burton, who was engaged to her mother at the time. Princess Elizabeth broke up with Burton and married thirdly Dr Manuel Ulloa y Elias, a former prime minister of Peru.
In 1981, Catherine turned down an offer of marriage from her cousin Prince Andrew, second son of Queen Elizabeth II. She has been married twice, first to the film producer Robert Evans (they were married and divorced in ten days in July 1998), then to Casper van Dien (8 May 1999).
Catherine has three daughters, India Riven Oxenberg, born in India on June 7th, 1991, Maya van Dien, born in Los Angeles on September 20th, 2001, and Celeste Alma van Dien, born October 3rd, 2003.
From 1989 to 1990 she dated U.S. Senator John Kerry.
Catherine is a second cousin of the Prince of Wales and of Queen Sophie of Spain. Through her grandparents, Prince Paul, Regent of Yugoslavia from 1934 to 1941, and Princess Olga of Greece and Denmark, Catherine is descended from dozens of crowned heads, including kings and queens of Greece, Scandinavia, and England and Russian Tsars. Indeed, her parents are said to have named their eldest daughter after her five-times-great-grandmother Catherine the Great, Empress of all the Russias (1729-96).