June 3, 2022
The 2022 defamation trial centered around Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s tumultuous marriage and divorce sparked a national conversation about spousal abuse, trauma, PTSD, and divorce because of domestic violence. Although entertainment news outlets covered the trial extensively, the real issue - domestic violence and intimate partner violence - is highly problematic and not entertainment.
Like many couples and families, Depp and Heard had a complicated relationship. Their love story had elements of intense emotions, aggression, and substance abuse - issues that many non-celebrity couples deal with.
As Texas family law attorneys, we represent many individuals who are victims of domestic abuse and are interested in getting a divorce after domestic violence. We know - whether you are in the public eye or not - this is a difficult course to navigate, especially when finances are impacted and children are involved.
At Brooks & Radchenko, we help our clients get in the strongest legal position to reach the best possible outcome.
Before Depp and Heard’s 2022 legal standoff, family violence was the topic of national discussion in 2021, when Netflix’s hugely popular show Maid was viewed by 67 million people. The 10-episode mini-series, based on Stephanie Land’s memoir Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive, highlighted the difficult, complex, multi-layered aftermath of domestic violence.
The show illustrated an important truth: family violence doesn’t start with violence. Toxic and abusive relationships usually start normally, with romance and mutual admiration, and affection. Abuse starts and a relationship can turn toxic very slowly. The start of the cycle of power and control may start with a belittling comment, a suggestion that something the victim did hurt the abuser’s feelings, or even a threat that is walked back as a joke. When full-blown, family abuse can consist of:
Once it begins, violence continues to increase with frequency and severity, often with cool-down periods where a victim may convince themselves that the perpetrator has changed.
Divorce and domestic violence can be complicated because abuse and control can worsen when divorce proceedings are initiated. The human desire to “keep the peace” can delay proceedings, and even give a victim false hope that an abuser will change their ways.
In cases of domestic violence and divorce, Texas laws will allow a judge to waive the mandatory waiting period (more on that, below) to grant a divorce relatively quickly.
In Amber Heard and Johnny Depp’s divorce, Heard filed for divorce in California based on “irreconcilable differences”. In California, divorces can only be filed under “no-fault” grounds”. The only other option of grounds in California is “incurable insanity” a rare instance where one party has been deemed permanently mentally incapacitated, and the burden of proof is high.
In Texas, you can file a fault or a no-fault divorce. You do not need to find a “fault” with your spouse in order to support them, you can file simply based on irreconcilable differences. However, in domestic violence proceedings, it can be helpful, especially in custody and asset division, if you are the wronged party (the judge may favor you in alimony and custody decisions). Divorce because of domestic violence is often necessary, and as stated above, the court may be able to expedite proceedings.
Other grounds for divorce in Texas include:
If you do file for a fault-based divorce, you will need to provide evidence.
Situations involving family violence can be overwhelming, confusing, and rapidly changing. As a victim, there are a few legal protections available before and during divorce due to domestic violence:
A TRO can offer protection for you, your children, your safety, and your property, and prohibit your spouse from committing specific acts during a divorce or custody case. This is an emergency court order that prohibits someone from taking specific actions until a hearing can be held.
For example, a TRO could prohibit:
Being served with a TRO does not mean you’ve done anything wrong, or that you are accused of a crime. TROs are only valid between spouses and not binding against third parties. They are intended for emergency situations only and cannot exclude a spouse from a residence.
An emergency protective order can prohibit someone who has committed family violence against you from committing further acts. If you are the victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, or stalking, an Emergency Protective Order may be sought to prevent
In Texas, emergency protective orders are good for 31-91 days.
When Amber Heard filed for divorce from Johnny Depp back in 2016, a Los Angeles judge granted her a temporary restraining order based on her claims that her husband was emotionally, physically, and verbally abusive. She withdrew the restraining order a few months later when the two settled the matter.
It is important to note that a Temporary (ex parte) Restraining Order in California is different than one granted in Texas. A California restraining order is more aligned with a protective order in Texas in the protection offered to alleged abuse victims.
In Texas, TROs and protective orders are sometimes used interchangeably, but there are important differences between them in Texas. Violation of a TRO is not enforceable by police, but a violation of a protective order is.
If you are the victim of spousal abuse, a Texas family law attorney can explain how this may affect your divorce, including:
Section 6.702 of the Texas Family Code establishes that a court may not grant a divorce until 60 days have passed from when the suit was filed. However, this mandatory waiting period may be waived if:
Custody is more than just time spent with children. When deciding custody matters, a family law judge will decide.
When family violence is demonstrated (with credible evidence), a judge will at the minimum, consider giving the non-abusing parent sole custody.
Texas does not award spousal support for marriages that last less than 10 years but domestic violence divorce settlements can include spousal maintenance. Like with waiting periods, Texas makes special considerations for victims of domestic violence. Spousal maintenance (court-ordered spousal support) may be awarded for marriages lasting less than 10 years when:
When Amber Heard filed her divorce proceeding, she requested temporary spousal support. Although Johnny Depp’s lawyers made the argument that Heard was able to support herself, a judge ultimately denied her request for temporary relief, citing she did not provide all the required documentation.
Amber Heard and Johnny Depp did not have a premarital or prenuptial agreement in place. A “prenup,” as they are often called, can be used to:
Some people planning to marry may be hesitant to discuss a prenup, on the grounds that it implies a lack of confidence in the longevity of a marriage. The issue of a prenuptial agreement was famously covered in the HBO show Sex and the City.
When utilized, prenuptial agreements are a valuable tool before a marriage to establish expectations and foster important conversations about how matters will be handled before, during, and after marriage. A customized prenuptial agreement can include provisions for certain potential issues that could arise, and even clauses for division of property when one spouse is convicted of domestic violence.
However, the court will look closely at the effects of domestic violence even when millions of dollars in future movie studio contracts are not at stake. Allegations of, and especially convictions of domestic violence during divorce will impact the outcome of a divorce.
In making decisions on property division, alimony, and child custody, the court will consider:
The Amber Heard / Johnny Depp divorce and legal aftermath illustrate that there was no clear “winner” in their high-profile marriage and even higher-profile divorce.
Taking on the legal system while dealing with abuse at home can feel overwhelming. No one ever gets married hoping they will get a divorce. However, if you or your children are dealing with abuse, the decision to leave is not a choice, it is a necessity. A Texas family lawyer familiar with domestic violence divorce cases can help you. At Family Law of North Texas, we can explain the options and the immediate protections that are available to you when you are facing domestic abuse and divorce.
This blog can certainly not answer every question regarding domestic violence and divorce - and every divorce is different. For more information about your rights in a divorce involving domestic violence, contact Family Law of North Texas. We serve clients across the DFW metroplex and throughout North Texas. Call us at 903-818-8681 to schedule a free case review.
It does not provide legal advice. The scenarios described in this website are intended to demonstrate legal principles involved with representation in the type of case described. Any current or former clients quoted or specifically identified in these materials have reviewed the firm on a third-party website or platform, such as Google, without compensation. Every legal case is different. Specific past results are not indicative of specific future results. Any information contained herein pertaining to experience or familiarity with particular courts or government agencies should not be construed as an ability or willingness to exert improper influence over the legal system. All services described in these materials and provided by Family Law of North Texas, LLC, and its attorneys, are only performed in compliance with all applicable laws and the Texas Rules of Professional Conduct.