Depp-Heard trial about divorce, defamation, denial

By Andrew Zashin*

The Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial has left me exhausted. The sordid details of the once power-couple’s relationship have been invading my phone and television for months on end. Much of this feeling can undoubtedly be attributed to the constant media attention throughout the duration of the proceedings, as well as the sudden influx of endless thought-pieces upon its conclusion.

For those unaware, actors Depp and Heard have spent approximately six weeks detailing the inner workings, or the lack thereof, of their relationship in both actual court, and the court of public opinion. For weeks, I have watched as both parties lob allegations of abuse (read: physical, mental, substance) back and forth in an effort to prove or disprove that the other had engaged in defamation. In the end, Depp prevailed.

Unsurprisingly, commentary surrounding the trial fell into two main camps: 1) the abuser has prevailed, ushering in the downfall of the #MeToo movement or 2) the trial destigmatized the notion that men can be victims of domestic abuse in relationships.

For example, EJ Dickson, of Rolling Stone, authored the piece, “‘Men Always Win’: Survivors ‘Sickened’ by the Amber Heard Verdict,” in which she states that the verdict indicates that (abused) women who come forward against powerful men may not only not be believed, but actively punished and that the verdict will have a chilling effect on female victims of domestic violence coming forward.

In contrast, Kurtis Condra wrote for the website YourTango, that Depp declaring himself a victim of domestic violence at trial helped to dispel the falsehoods that men have the ability to overpower women and “easily escape abusive situations,” and therefore, cannot be victims of domestic abuse. The piece further argued that Depp gave a voice to many male victims of domestic violence who, “suffer in silence.”

Despite the fact that the legal issue before the jury was whether one or both parties defamed the other, the Depp-Heard trial highlighted to me the complexity and anguish often inherently tethered to domestic violence civil litigation. Divorce, and the legal proceedings that surround it such as domestic violence protection order proceedings, are seldom joyous occasions that conclude swiftly; unsurprisingly, divorcing couples often struggle with working toward an amicable end.

Even after the parties are divorced, it is not uncommon for the wounds of the past to bleed into future legal proceedings. These future legal proceedings sometimes involve claims of defamation but more commonly are actions involving the modification of financial support or parenting time; aka post-decree matters. Many of my clients believe that post-decree litigation will heal the emotional wounds created during the marriage and/or divorce. Sadly, I find the opposite to be true with post-decree litigation not only deepening old wounds but typically effectuating new ones.

With Depp-Heard, you have two parties who have independently garnered both wealth and fame. Further, the two separated and divorced without much to do. However, from my perspective, the wounds that formed during their marriage and divorce had not healed, and in turn, the parties reached for the elixir of litigation to stop the bleeding. Unfortunately, what resulted was the acquisition of significant legal fees, and the parties’ pain and volatile relationship mired in various forms of abuse being played out on a public stage for all to see.

This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.

2023-11-10T13:38:05-05:00June 17th, 2022|Celebrity Divorces, Defamation, Domestic Violence|

Celebrity divorce: what does winning look like?

By Andrew Zashin*

When any celebrity divorce makes internet headlines, my curiosity as a family lawyer is piqued. As a result, over the past two years, I have been clicking on a fair number of articles reporting on Kelly Clarkson’s fairly public divorce. Last month, the internet was ablaze with headlines stating that Clarkson was ordered to pay millions of dollars to her ex-husband, Brandon Blackstone, as part of her divorce settlement. The implication of these headlines was that the divorce order was a major financial blow to Clarkson. From my perspective, however, Clarkson has exited her divorce, financially speaking, largely unscathed. Let me explain.

According to major news outlets, Clarkson earns approximately $1 million a month from “The Kelly Clarkson Show,” a talk show that started in 2019. In addition, it was reported that when she appeared on “The Voice,“ a reality-based, singing competition television show, Clarkson earned approximately $14 million a season. Court documents indicate that these combined TV appearances brought in approximately $1.5 million a month for Clarkson. In contrast, in 2021, Blackstone reportedly earned $10,000 a month as a rancher in Montana.

In addition to the earnings noted above, Clarkson also has her own furniture line and is now appearing on the NBC television show, “American Song Contest.” Earnings from both endeavors are not widely known, but are no doubt significant. In sum, what is important to understand is that Clarkson earns significantly more than her now ex-husband.

According to a recent story in PEOPLE, Clarkson has agreed to pay Blackstone $115,000 a month in spousal support from Feb.1, 2022, until Jan. 31, 2024, and monthly child support in the amount of $45,601 as part of their divorce settlement. In addition, Clarkson will pay Blackstone a one-time property division payment of $1.3 million. While these are significant numbers to the average person, they are not to Clarkson.

Assuming Clarkson’s and Blackstone’s above-listed incomes are correct, Blackstone and Clarkson collectively net approximately $685,500 per month. If you compare that collective amount to the monthly combined support to be paid to Blackstone for the next two years, Blackstone will receive less than one-quarter of the collective dollars earned between Clarkson and Blackstone. It is important to note, however, that for the next two months, Blackstone will receive even less than one-quarter since he is required to pay Clarkson $2,000 a month in rent and $12,5000 a month for the Montana ranch in which he resides. These payments by Blackstone are the result of a judge upholding the parties’ prenuptial agreement and thus finding that the Montana residence purchased during the marriage is the sole property of Clarkson, and that Blackstone only holds a 5.12% separate property interest in the adjoining ranch, which was also purchased during the marriage.

USA Today reports that the Montana properties are worth approximately $17.4 million. Therefore, if Clarkson was to sell the Montana properties following Blackstone’s exit from the properties, she would easily earn back the $1.3 million paid out to Blackstone in property division.

As you can see, from a sheer balance-sheet perspective, the divorce did not hit Clarkson’s wallet particularly hard. The outcome is a testament to what a well-written prenuptial agreement and good lawyering can accomplish. This is not to say, however, that Clarkson is the victor of the divorce. Clarkson and Blackstone suffered the loss of their marriage. She and Blackstone may still need to heal the emotional wounds they received before and during the divorce process. Hopefully, they both can move on respectfully for the benefit of their children.

This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.

2023-11-10T13:38:06-05:00April 22nd, 2022|Celebrity Divorces, Prenuptial Agreements|

What Gates’ divorce means for philanthropy

By Andrew Zashin*

On May 3, well-known philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates announced they were ending their marriage after 27 years. Within her petition for divorce, Melinda Gates cited that the parties do not have a prenuptial agreement, but are asking the court to divide their assets pursuant to the terms of a mutually agreed upon separation agreement.

Presently, the terms of the separation agreement are unknown and are the cause of much speculation with media analysts. As a divorce attorney, my first thought went to the separation agreement, but then my focus shifted to the future of the Gates Foundation. More specifically, given their long history of charitable action through their foundation, I was concerned their divorce would put an end to their philanthropic efforts.

Bill and Melinda Gates created the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000. The foundation contributes money and support to fight a multitude of problems such as climate change, poverty, gender inequality and, most recently, COVID-19. It is estimated since 2000 the foundation has spent over $53 billion to combat, “poverty, disease and inequity around the world,” according to its website. In 2020, the foundation donated over $1 billion to fight the spread of COVID-19. Money from the foundation went to assist with COVID-19 testing along with development and distribution of vaccines to prevent the spread of the virus.

According to candid.org, the Gates Foundation is the largest private charitable organization (i.e. a charitable entity that does not accept funds from the public) in the United States. The foundation, however, has locations not only in the United States, but also in India, China, Europe and Africa. According to the foundation’s website, the foundation has funded grantees in 48 states and the District of Columbia, and funded work in 135 countries in 2019 alone. More impressive, the foundation has already funded over 230 grantees in 2021. In addition, it is estimated that the foundation holds over $40 billion in assets.

At present, the Gates are indicating that both parties will remain co-chairs and trustees of the foundation despite the ending of their marriage. As a divorce attorney who works with divorcing or divorced individuals on a daily basis, I can say the Gates’ decision to continue to work together is extremely rare. For one, it is difficult for some divorced individuals to put aside feelings that potentially contributed to the divorce in the first place.

As a result, negativity can bleed into daily dealings and poison even the most benign conversations. In addition, divorced couples continuing to have close financial ties with each other following the termination of the marriage is uncommon. Many Ohio courts prefer couples make a complete financial break. The reason being, is a “clean break” prevents the divorcees from hovering over one another’s future financial decisions.

At this time, the Gateses do not appear to be concerned about making financial decisions for the foundation together as they have chosen to maintain their longstanding roles within the foundation.

Hopefully, in maintaining these current roles they will continue to work toward helping people live healthy, productive lives.

This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.

2023-11-10T13:38:07-05:00May 20th, 2021|Celebrity Divorces, Divorce, Philanthropy|

Peter Frampton’s Divorce and Child Custody Versus Visitation

Peter Frampton filed for divorce from his third wife, Christina Elfers-Frampton, on June 21. The couple has a 15 year old daughter. The story varies from one news outlet to the next, with one stating that he wants joint legal custody but for primary physical to go to Elfers, and another stating that he wants only visitation time.

When clients first arrive at our office they are often confused about terms like “sole custody,” “joint custody,” “visitation,” and “shared parenting.” And this confusion no doubt led to the just as confusing conflicting reports on Frampton’s family situation.

At the outset, it is important to understand that custody and visitation are two separate concepts. “Custody” refers not only to where a child physically lives, but also to which parent has the legal right and responsibility to make important decisions for the child. “Visitation,” on the other hand, refers to the time that the child spends with each parent. And the possible combinations of custody and visitation are just as diverse as the families who are subject to orders regarding them.

Sole custody may be awarded to one parent, either in a situation where the other parent does not want custody for whatever reason, or if the court finds that it is in the child’s best interest for only one parent to have custody. A court might make such a decision if, for example, the other parent is unfit, or if shared parenting doesn’t make sense because the parents live a substantial distance apart or if they can’t set aside their differences long enough to cooperatively raise their child.

Conversely, joint custody, also known as “shared parenting,” can be awarded if both parents want it and/or the court determines that such an arrangement is in the best interests of the child. In the majority of situations shared parenting is preferable, and the courts generally feel that children benefit the most from having both parents involved in their lives.

Regardless of whether custody is shared or sole, a visitation schedule will almost certainly be granted except in extreme cases such as abuse. In Ohio, most counties have set out a standard schedule that represents that sets out a guaranteed minimum amount of time that a parent will be entitled to see his or her child. A typical schedule is every other weekend, and often a mid-week visitation of several hours. Holidays and school breaks are divided as evenly as possible. And, due to work and school schedules these standard visitation schedules work well for many divorcing families. However, modification of the standard schedules is extremely common as well and the courts are committed to finding a schedule that will work best for all involved, with the child’s best interests as the primary determining factor.

In Frampton’s case, if he doesn’t want custody, he, like other similarly situated parents, will not likely find himself forced into such an arrangement. But if it turns out that he does want to share custody, a shared parenting arrangement can be granted even over Elfers’ objections. In any eventuality, he will almost certainly be awarded visitation time with his daughter on a schedule that will work the best for him, for Elfers, and, most importantly, for their child.

2023-11-10T13:38:18-05:00June 28th, 2011|Celebrity Divorces, Child Custody|

Tiger Woods and Al Gore: What the Average Person Can Learn From Celebrity Divorces

1. Consider Pre-Divorce Planning: it may not feel “romantic” to discuss the possibility of divorce with your spouse. But if the two of you can appreciate the practicality of such a conversation now, it can save you money and heartache in the future should divorce become a reality.

2. Be Proactive: If you or your spouse is considering divorce, don’t put your head in the sand and hope it goes away. Use this time to find an attorney you are comfortable with so if the time to split comes you have a knowledgeable ally at the ready.

3. Choose your lawyer carefully: Even for people who are not celebrities or high net worth individuals, the choice of a divorce lawyer is critical. It is difficult enough having to deal with divorce and child custody issues. Compounding those problems are the difficulties of being a consumer of domestic relations law services. It is therefore imperative that the law firm you choose is one that is familiar with the law and getting things done. The lawyers at the law firm you choose may get involved in many intimate aspects of your life. Make sure that the lawyers at your side are ones with whom you feel you have good “chemistry.” You need to click with them. And finally, the law firm you choose to represent you should have the resources, human and otherwise, to support the uniqueness and complexities of your case. Otherwise, in a time of crisis you may feel stranded or outgunned.

4. Work Together to Preserve Your Estate: As hard as it may be (especially if an extramarital affair is involved), working with your spouse to create an amicable resolution saves time and money. If children are involved this is even more critical. For example: while it may feel good to “out” a spouse for an affair, in some cases this could jeopardize his or her job. If (s)he is the breadwinner of the family, this could compromise your ability to receive support for years to come. Of course if you suspect your spouse is hiding assets, this may not be possible. But if you are able to work openly and honestly with your spouse, the payoff will outweigh the initial emotional hurt tenfold.

If international custody issues could arise, it is even more critical that you are proactive when considering divorce. Perhaps the Woods discussed the children moving with their mother back to her home country upon a divorce. Perhaps not. But now, less than a year after his scandal broke, Tiger has a tarnished image, hundreds of millions less in his bank account, and may find himself living in a country without his kids. Learn a lesson by his example: if divorce is on your horizon, be proactive, find competent counsel, and set aside emotion while working with your spouse to preserve the marital estate.
Finally, people often think they need a “tough” lawyer or a “shark.” There is a legitimate time and place for being tough. Being tough all the time, however, often leads to useless and counterproductive fighting. And in the field of family law there are lots of fights not worth having. Instead, what most people really want is a results-oriented lawyer. Such a lawyer is tough when necessary, but also capable of resolving conflicts. In a word, a results-oriented lawyer is one who can modulate; one that can adapt to any given situation and resolves cases in ways that make sense for their clients. To familiarize yourself with the results-oriented family law attorneys at Zashin & Rich, please visit http://www.zrfamilylaw.com

Go to Top