Amber Heard vs. Johnny Depp: How Claims of Domestic Violence May Impact Their Divorce … and Yours

After 15 months of marriage, actress Amber Heard filed for divorce from Johnny Depp in California on May 23, 2016. Shortly after filing, Heard also filed for a restraining order against Depp, claiming she was a victim of repeated domestic violence. The judge granted a temporary restraining order that requires Depp to stay at least 100 feet away from Heard and their L.A. home where Heard is living.

As is the case with many contentious, celebrity divorces, Heard and Depp’s camps have engaged in a “he said, she said” war of words. Her camp backs her claims, while his camp denies he ever harmed the actress. Depp’s divorce lawyer also alleges Heard is merely attempting to secure financial gain by making the domestic violence claims.

So what impact, may domestic violence claims and restraining orders have on the outcome of a divorce?

According to Dallas Divorce Lawyer Abby Gregory, in cases where family violence has occurred in Texas, protective orders actually are more appropriate than restraining orders. “Protective orders go a step beyond restraining orders in Texas, because they are based on a finding of family violence and have criminal consequences,” Abby says.

What constitutes family violence in Texas?

According to Texas Family Code §71.004 the state of Texas defines family violence as an act by a member of a family or a household, against another member of the family or household that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault or sexual assault, or is a threat that reasonably places a family member in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault or sexual assault. It does not include defensive measures to protect oneself.

In Texas, if Heard filed for divorce, alleged she was a victim of domestic violence and claimed she was in imminent danger, it’s likely her divorce attorney would seek both a restraining order and protective order against Depp.

Protective orders are preferable when family violence is a concern

“To get a temporary protective order in Texas, there has to be a clear and present danger of family violence, and an incident of family violence needs to have occurred within the last 30 days. Then no later than the 14th day, a hearing is held to determine if the protective order will become a final order. This is when the court determines whether or not family violence occurred and if it is likely to occur in the future,” Abby says.

According to TMZ, Heard appeared in court with a bruised face to ask for the restraining order, claiming Depp had hit her in the face with his iPhone. This would meet the 30-day requirement (if the abuse allegations are proven to be true).

Once is enough, you don’t need to establish a history of family violence

As Abby explains, “It’s important to note that nothing in the Texas statute prevents one incident of family violence from being sufficient enough to warrant a finding by the court that it’s likely to happen in the future.

“In addition, when a party violates a protective order you can call the police to arrest that person. The police won’t typically arrest people for violating restraining orders – those disputes are typically resolved in court.”

Restraining orders are typically used in emergencies and to prohibit certain actions

According to Abby, “In Texas, temporary restraining orders are typically used in emergency situations, where you don’t have time to set a hearing and give the other party notice. You need to file an affidavit with the court, and if the judge grants the temporary restraining order, a hearing is scheduled within 14 days to decide if the order becomes an injunction.”

Restraining orders in Texas are typically used to enjoin – or order – someone from carrying out certain actions, like preventing Depp from coming within 100 feet of Heard.

As Abby elaborates, “Restraining orders could prohibit a party from contacting the other party in any way (in person, phone, text, email, etc.), taking money from joint financial accounts, selling community property, bringing a new girlfriend around the children, etc.”

You can also take emergency steps to remove an abusive family member from the family residence by requesting an ex parte protective order.

According to Abby, “The court can enter an ex parte protective order if family violence has occurred in the past 30 days against someone in the household and if there is a clear and present danger that the person is likely to commit family violence against someone in the household again.”

So how might Heard’s claims of domestic violence impact her divorce case?

Heard recently removed her initial request for spousal support, following her domestic violence allegations. This may work in her favor in the court of public opinion, since Depp’s side is alleging she is motivated by financial gain. However, that doesn’t mean Heard won’t ask for spousal maintenance during the divorce negotiations.

“While we don’t know what the circumstances or motivations are in the Heard vs. Depp case, many people do use protective orders as leverage when negotiating a divorce settlement. As a Dallas Divorce Lawyer, unfortunately, I’ve found it isn’t uncommon for an alleged victim to offer to drop a protective order in return for financial considerations,” Abby says.

In Texas, a criminal conviction for family violence can also affect spousal maintenance, where it is considered an exception to the minimum marriage of 10-years requirement.

According to Abby, if you have been married less than 10 years, you may become eligible for spousal support if the following qualifications are met:

  • An act of family violence against you has occurred in the past two years before the date on which a divorce was filed or while a divorce case is pending.
  • The person from whom you are seeking spousal support has either been convicted or received deferred adjudication for a criminal offense that constitutes an act of family violence.

When things get heated, keep your cool

Abby strongly encourages people to be very careful about controlling their behavior, especially in those last days before either party files for divorce. As she explains, “Emotions run high, people scream and make threats. It’s important to know that even a threat of violence can be considered family violence.”

She has also seen many cases where what seems like a minor act, like throwing a cell phone or jumping up and down on it, has been considered family violence. “Especially with temporary protective orders, it can be very powerful to show the smashed cell phone, show the smashed plate or show the hole in the wall to the judge,” says Abby.

Being accused of family violence or being the subject of a restraining order or protective order can be costly, especially when children are involved.

According to Abby, “Not only can family violence allegations put you in a weaker bargaining position regarding finances, if you have a protective order granted against you, the court is prohibited from naming you a joint managing conservator of your children.”

Acts of family violence are NEVER OK, neither are false accusations

To be clear, we don’t know whether Heard’s allegations are true or not. That is for the California courts to decide.

What we do know is that there should be zero tolerance for family violence, and if you are afraid for your safety and have experienced domestic violence, help is available!

You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), and we offer plenty of additional resources here: Why They Stayed, How You Can Leave 

On the flip side, Abby says, “Some people use false claims as a tactic to better themselves in their divorce proceedings. Even incidents that are not acts of family violence could be manipulated into looking like they are. Those incidents could be presented to the judge under the guise of family violence in an attempt for one party to call the shots. So it’s important to mind your Ps and Qs and keep your cool in order to secure the divorce and child custody agreement you desire.”

Photo Source: gdcgraphics [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons