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Divorce, Domestic Violence, and a Looming Legal Battle: The Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard Case Study

Morristown NJ Divorce LawyersAnother Hollywood marriage went up in flames recently, as Amber Heard filed for divorce from Johnny Depp after a 15-month marriage. The initial divorce filing was quickly followed by a shocking revelation, as Heard obtained a temporary restraining order against Depp, alleging an ongoing pattern of abuse and a recent incident involving a cell phone.

As accusations fly, this contentious divorce battle has only begun. Although our lives may be far different from these celebrities, their divorce raises a multitude of significant issues that are often relevant to New Jersey divorces: requests for alimony, complex property division, high net worth divorce without a prenuptial agreement, and of course, allegations of domestic abuse. In this article, we will utilize the Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard divorce as a valuable case study, examining the issues and providing insight into how they may affect your divorce journey in New Jersey.

Grounds for the Divorce: Domestic Violence vs. Irreconcilable Differences

Amber Heard filed for divorce from Johnny Depp on Monday, May 23rd, citing irreconcilable differences. If she had filed in New Jersey, her decision to pursue a “no fault” divorce would have significant implications. Specifically, New Jersey allows divorce plaintiffs to pursue “fault” or “no fault” divorces, a decision which must be communicated in the Initial Complaint for Divorce. In order to cite “irreconcilable differences,” you and your spouse must have suffered from a severe marital breakdown that has lasted at least six months, with no chance for reconciliation. Heard was granted a temporary restraining order just four days after the initial divorce filing, which speaks to a different issue, as domestic violence can be cited as grounds for a “fault” divorce in New Jersey. If the divorce had proceeded here, domestic abuse may have been cited in the initial complaint for divorce and thus, weighed as a factor while determining the final marital settlement.

Request for Pendente Lite Alimony

With her initial divorce filing, Heard requested temporary spousal support, known in New Jersey as pendente lite alimony. Pendente lite alimony is a form of temporary financial support provided to the receiving spouse during the divorce proceedings to maintain the marital standard of living before a final alimony determination is made. Interestingly, a judge denied Heard’s request for temporary spousal support. Depp’s attorney cited the short-lived marriage and Heard’s ability to support herself as arguments against Heard’s request. However, the judge cited a different reason for denying the request for temporary relief, stating that Heard did not provide all necessary financial information.

No Prenuptial Agreement

Surprisingly, Depp and Heard did not have a prenuptial agreement, which means that all of the terms of their divorce or currently hanging in the balance. With regard to alimony, division of assets, and other financial issues, the circumstances of the specific case will dictate the court’s decisions if the parties cannot reach a settlement. If the case were to proceed in New Jersey, the duration of the marriage, among other factors, would be considered in determining the applicability and amount of the alimony award. Under New Jersey law, the following factors must be considered when deciding an appropriate alimony amount:

  • The actual needs and ability of each party to pay;
  • The duration of the marriage;
  • The age and health of both spouses;
  • The standard of living maintained during the marriage and the likelihood that each party can maintain a reasonably comparable standard of living without financial assistance from the other party;
  • Each spouse’s earning potential;
  • The length of absence from the job market of the party seeking maintenance;
  • The parental responsibilities of each party;
  • The time and expense necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to become self-sufficient;
  • The previous contributions (both financial and non-financial) to the marriage by each party (including child care contributions that require personal sacrifices involving career and educational opportunities);
  • The equitable distribution of property;
  • The result of income-producing assets and investments;
  • The consequences to each party of any alimony award, including taxable and tax deductible payments;
  • Any other factors deemed relevant by the court.

Many of the above factors are not in Heard’s favor in this case, given the short duration of the marriage, that Heard and Depp do not share children, that both parties have been employed throughout the marriage, and that both have significant earning potential.

Will Domestic Violence be a Factor in the Divorce?

Notably, those who support of Depp have accused Heard of alleging domestic violence as a means by which to obtain a more favorable financial settlement in the divorce. According to court documents, Depp’s lawyer, Laura Wasser, said that Heard “is attempting to secure a premature financial resolution by alleging abuse.” So, how do accusations of domestic abuse affect divorce determinations involving money? There is no clear answer to this question; however, due to the high-profile nature of Depp and Heard’s lives, some have suggested that she is using the potential damage to Depp’s career as leverage for achieving an early resolution with greater financial gain. Generally, when a case proceeds through litigation, the details become part of the public record, which may expose both parties to public scrutiny. This case will be adjudicated in the courts, as well as in the court of public opinion, inevitably serving as tabloid fodder for quite some time, and leaving us to wonder: is fact truly stranger than fiction?