Family Law Corner: Through the Looking Glass of the Depp-Heard Marriage

In the aftermath of the domestic violence allegations made by Amber Heard (“The Danish Girl”) about her husband of fifteen months, Johnny Depp (“Edward Scissorhands”), she is being accused of attempting to extort Depp into a generous financial settlement.

Depp’s friend, stand-up comic Doug Stanhope, penned an op-ed piece in the celebrity blog The Wrap titled “Johnny Depp Is Being Blackmailed By Amber Heard: Here’s How I Know.” Heard promptly filed a civil lawsuit in Arizona, alleging defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Stanhope and other defendants. In her complaint, she vowed to donate all proceeds of the lawsuit to a battered woman’s shelter.

On May 26, 2016, three days after filing her Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, Heard filed an ex parte request for a temporary restraining order against Depp, which she received the next day.

Heard stated in her supporting declaration that “[d]uring the entirety of our relationship, Johnny has been verbally and physically abusive to me.” Heard stated that the most recent abuse occurred four days prior when Depp threw a cell phone at her and forcibly pulled back her hair when she attempted to stand.

In awarding spousal support, a California court is required to consider documented evidence of any history of domestic violence, including considering emotional distress resulting from domestic violence perpetrated against the supported party by the supporting party pursuant to Family Code §4320(i). In addition, Family Code §6341(c) allows the court to award temporary spousal support in the context of a domestic violence restraining order hearing, and that the court “shall consider whether failure to make any of these orders may jeopardize the safety of the petitioner, including safety concerns related to the financial needs of the petitioner.”

The Depp-Heard marriage lasted just over a year. A short-term marriage usually carries with it a short spousal support obligation of no more than one half the length of the marriage. In re Marriage of Chapman(1987) 191 Cal.App.3d 1308, 237 Cal.Rptr. 84. Arguably, the enduring nature of the effects of domestic violence during a marriage requires that the abuser take financial responsibility for those acts in the form of spousal support.

The California Family Code gives a court the discretion to consider the effects of domestic violence in a short-term marriage.

Depp’s enduring stardom has made him extremely wealthy, and his net worth is estimated to exceed $400 million. Heard is a successful up-and-coming movie star in her own right, having starred in “Magic Mike XXL” and “The Danish Girl” in 2015. She is currently filming “Justice League.” It remains to be seen whether the court will find that Heard needs spousal support from Depp, and whether a history of domestic violence by Depp, if found to be true, should be considered in awarding support.