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.