Insight

What If Johnny Depp and Amber Heard Had a Premarital Agreement?

Oh, the gritty details we’re learning from the latest court battle between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. This unfortunate airing of dirty laundry may have been avoided with a prenup. Should you think about getting one yourself?

What If Johnny Depp & Amber Heard Had Prenup?
John M. Goralka

John M. Goralka

May 27, 2022 09:00 AM

As we observe the very public $50 million defamation lawsuit Johnny Depp brought against his ex-wife, Amber Heard, we realize that this all seems to be related to or carried over from on their very public divorce proceedings. The couple were married – without the benefit of a prenuptial agreement – in 2015 after meeting in 2011 on the film set for The Rum Diary. They split up when Heard filed for divorce in 2016. That divorce was final in 2017, but it certainly didn’t end their legal battles.

At the time of their divorce, Depp’s net worth was estimated to be more than 18 times larger than Heard’s. She initially sought $50,000 per month in spousal support to maintain her marital lifestyle. The property settlement provided for Depp to pay her $7 million. Heard declared that she would donate the divorce proceeds to charity. So, Depp paid a portion of the divorce settlement to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and to the ACLU. Heard’s attorney then demanded that Depp donate $14 million to charity to reflect a net payment of $7 million for Depp after the projected $7 million in tax savings from the charitable contribution deduction.

Amber and Johnny’s dispute still rages on now, five years after their divorce was final in 2017. Note that the marriage itself lasted only 16 months, yet it appears to have inspired six years of litigation and controversy. The couple are currently back in court, with Depp suing over an op-ed Heard wrote in 2018 alleging she was the victim of domestic abuse.

How a Prenup Could Have Helped

A premarital agreement could have made a world of difference. It would almost certainly have protected Depp from such a sizable financial settlement for a 16-month marriage. A prenuptial agreement may even have protected Johnny Depp from today’s very public litigation, as the use of a confidentiality agreement in conjunction with a premarital agreement may help prevent ongoing public arguments, accusations or bickering. As it stands, without such protections, we can all read about and watch videos of Depp’s testimony on the news and online.

How could a prenup have protected Heard? The confidentiality agreement may have minimized some of the very public discussions of her problems. A prenuptial agreement might have protected specific assets owned or income earned by Heard from being characterized as community property or being included in the determination of the final settlement amount.

Divorce is emotionally charged and often involves many issues beyond just the financial settlement. We have all heard stories or even observed instances where cars, artwork or even houses are destroyed or sold at garage sale prices to prevent the asset from going to an ex-spouse. These decisions are often made for reasons that defy logic or common sense. Establishing boundaries for divorce may help prevent greater financial and emotional pain later.

A TV Star’s Prenup Made for Smooth Sailing

Let’s contrast Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s divorce with that of actor Kaley Cuoco and professional tennis player Ryan Sweeting’s divorce. Cuoco was a star on the hit television show The Big Bang Theory in 2015. She currently stars in the series The Flight Attendant. At the time of her divorce, Forbes magazine named Cuoco TV’s highest paid actress, tied with Sofia Vergara in 2015. Cuoco received $28.5 million in earnings that year, including a salary equal to $1 million per episode. Her husband, on the other hand, had an estimated net worth of $2 million, about $42 million less than Cuoco’s net worth as reported by Forbes.

Unlike Depp and Heard, Cuoco and Sweeting signed a prenuptial agreement approximately one month before their wedding. The couple separated in 2015 after a 21-month marriage. The binding premarital agreement provided Cuoco full control of her assets and income. The premarital agreement also provided protection from claims for greater support or additional assets beyond the level or amount agreed.

Premarital agreements are an important tool to avoid drawn out financial and emotional battles, such as battles over spousal support, when a marriage fails. We can never know for sure whether such an agreement would have prevented the six years of litigation between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. However, such an agreement would have significantly limited the areas and potential of their dispute. Some of the more emotionally charged claims, such as a demand for support in the amount of $50,000 per month by Heard, may have been avoided. Depp’s and Heard’s situation further underscores the value of combining a confidentially agreement with a premarital agreement.

Should You Consider a Prenup?

Prenuptial agreements and confidentiality agreements are particularly important for the following people getting married:

  • Those with children from a prior relationship.
  • Older couples.
  • People getting married with significant assets prior to marriage.
  • People or public figures seeking to keep such matters private.
  • People seeking to protect their partner from his or her debts or liabilities (or those seeking to protect themselves from their partner’s debts).

If you fall into one or more of these categories, then you should take a lesson from the two celebrity divorce cases described above and consider entering into a prenuptial agreement before marriage. Here are six other protections to consider, too:

  1. Pair the prenuptial agreement with a confidentiality agreement for greater privacy.
  2. Identify separate assets that are acquired prior to the marriage. Consider whether income from those separate assets will be community or separate property.
  3. Consider whether the wages or earnings from work or efforts during marriage are community or separate property. Are debts to be considered community or separate? An often-overlooked alternative for a prenuptial agreement is to insulate one spouse from the debts and liabilities of his or her partner.
  4. If one spouse has substantially greater assets or income (which is frequently the case), consider designating certain assets to go to the less wealthy spouse over time so that a divorce after a long-term marriage does not otherwise leave one spouse with insufficient assets. Such a provision in some cases substantially enhances the effectiveness of the prenuptial agreement.
  5. Consider pairing the prenuptial agreement with an asset protection trust, which provides a second, considerable layer of protection from lawsuits, divorce and other claims. This trust, which should be created and funded before the prenuptial agreement, is a trust specifically designed to provide greater creditor and asset protection for the creator or grantor of the trust. An asset protection trust can be domestic and, currently, 17 states, including Nevada, South Dakota and Wyoming, have laws that permit these trusts. Additionally, foreign asset protection trusts, or hybrid bridge trusts, can be used, such as trusts settled under the laws of the Cook Islands. A hybrid bridge trust begins life as a domestic asset protection trust but converts to a foreign offshore trust in the event of a crisis.
  6. Consider including an estate planning provision to permit portability of the deceased spouse’s unused estate tax exemption (the “DSUE”) to a surviving spouse. Even a carefully crafted estate plan can be derailed with an unplanned death particularly if coupled with a change in marital status.

Original source: https://www.kiplinger.com/personal-finance/604618/what-if-johnny-depp-and-amber-heard-had-a-premarital-agreement

Related Articles

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard: The Best Lawyers Honorees Behind the Litigation


by Gregory Sirico

Best Lawyers takes a look at the recognized legal talent representing Johnny Depp and Amber Heard in their ongoing defamation trial.

Lawyers for Johnny Depp and Amber Heard

Prenuptial Peril


by Laura Wheatman Hill

Prenups aren’t always bulletproof, but there’s hope if you end up exposed in a divorce.

Why Your Prenup Might Not Save You

The Real Camille: An Interview with Johnny Depp’s Lawyer Camille Vasquez


by Rebecca Blackwell

Camille Vasquez, a young lawyer at Brown Rudnick, sat down with Best Lawyers CEO Phillip Greer to talk about her distinguished career, recently being named partner and what comes next for her.

Camille Vasquez in office

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers: Family Law Publication


by Best Lawyers

Featuring the top legal talent in Family Law and Trusts & Estates.

Announcing Best Lawyers Family Law 2022

Crossing the Line


by Joseph Trotti

Divorce can be difficult, complicated and emotionally exhausting. Divorcing across state lines ups the jurisdictional complexity significantly.

Jurisdiction and Divorce Across State Lines

Trouble at Home


by Brittney M. Miller and James J. Vedder

Decisions about custody and parenting time after a separation or divorce are never simple. Family violence of any kind makes the process all the more complex—and the victim isn’t always the beneficiary.

How Domestic Violence Complicates Custody

My Husband Didn’t Want to Stay Married…But He Didn’t Want a Divorce


by Jennifer Billock

Patience—and the law—prevails when an uncooperative partner avoids divorce proceedings.

Divorcing an Uncooperative Partner

My Lawyer Failed Me as an Advocate in My Parents’ Divorce


by Rebecca Rush

Here’s how to ensure your children are respected during a custody battle.

Representing Children in a Divorce

What Happens to Credit Card Debt When I Get a Divorce?


by Hossein Berenji

In a community property state like California, credit card debt may be shared between partners.

Credit Card Debt After Divorce

Michael Baughman, Pennsylvania’s 2018 Lawyer of the Year in Media Law


by Abigail Rowe

An interview with Michael Baughman, who was recognized with the 2018 "Lawyer of the Year" award in media law.

Michael Baughman, Pennsylvania’s 2018 Lawyer

New Year Ushers in New Formulas for Calculating Maintenance Payments in Divorce Proceedings


by Timothy E. Weiler

The anticipated outcome of the adoption of the increased income threshold is to reduce litigation about the amount of maintenance to be paid by simply applying the statutorily mandated calculation to more individuals with a much higher annual income.

Maintenance Payments

Important Considerations in Determining What Is in the Best Interest of a Child


by Hossein Berenji

When courts make determinations about child custody they will make the decision based on what they believe is in the best interest of the child.

Best Interest of a Child

Clients Should Understand Basic Financial Consequences of a Divorce


by Steven Fernandez

Spouses who get divorced will have to adjust how they file their taxes, what income and liabilities they must report for tax purposes, and even how they approach discussions about alimony and spousal support.

Divorce Finances

Trending Articles

The Real Camille: An Interview with Johnny Depp’s Lawyer Camille Vasquez


by Rebecca Blackwell

Camille Vasquez, a young lawyer at Brown Rudnick, sat down with Best Lawyers CEO Phillip Greer to talk about her distinguished career, recently being named partner and what comes next for her.

Camille Vasquez in office

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard: The Best Lawyers Honorees Behind the Litigation


by Gregory Sirico

Best Lawyers takes a look at the recognized legal talent representing Johnny Depp and Amber Heard in their ongoing defamation trial.

Lawyers for Johnny Depp and Amber Heard

Announcing The Best Lawyers in The United Kingdom™ 2023


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms from the United Kingdom.

The Best Lawyers in The United Kingdom 2023

Announcing The Best Lawyers in France™ 2023


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms from France.

Blue, white and red strips

Announcing The Best Lawyers in Germany™ 2023


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms from Germany.

Black, red and yellow stripes

Education by Trial: Cultivating Legal Expertise in the Courtroom


by Margo Pierce

The intricacies of complex lawsuits require extensive knowledge of the legal precedent. But they also demand a high level of skill in every discipline needed to succeed at trial, such as analyzing technical reports and deposing expert witnesses.

Cultivating Legal Expertise in the Courtroom

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers® in the United States


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers listed in the 28th Edition of The Best Lawyers in America® and in the 2nd Edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America for 2022.

2022 Best Lawyers Listings for United States

Announcing The Best Lawyers in Belgium™ 2023


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms from Belgium.

Black, yellow and red stripes

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers™ in France


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms, including our inaugural Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch recipients.

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers™ in France

We Are Women, We Are Fearless


by Deborah S. Chang and Justin Smulison

Athea Trial Lawyers is a female owned and operated law firm specializing in civil litigation, catastrophic energy, wrongful death and product liability.

Athea Trial Law Female Leadership and Success

Choosing a Title Company: What a Seller Should Expect


by Roy D. Oppenheim

When it comes to choosing a title company, how much power exactly does a seller have?

Choosing the Title Company As Seller

Destiny Fulfilled


by Sara Collin

Was Angela Reddock-Wright destined to become a lawyer? It sure seems that way. Yet her path was circuitous. This accomplished employment attorney, turned mediator, arbitrator and ADR specialist nonpareil discusses her career, the role of attorneys in society, the new world of post-pandemic work and why new Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson represents the future.

Interview with Lawyer Angela Reddock-Wright

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers™ in Germany


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms, including our inaugural Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch recipients.

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers™ in Germany

U.K. Introduces Revisions to Right-to-Work Scheme and Immigration Rules


by Gregory Sirico

Right-to-Work Scheme and Immigration Rules in

Famous Songs Unprotected by Copyright Could Mean Royalties for Some


by Michael B. Fein

A guide to navigating copyright claims on famous songs.

Can I Sing "Happy Birthday" in Public?

What the Courts Say About Recording in the Classroom


by Christina Henagen Peer and Peter Zawadski

Students and parents are increasingly asking to use audio devices to record what's being said in the classroom. But is it legal? A recent ruling offer gives the answer to a question confusing parents and administrators alike.

Is It Legal for Students to Record Teachers?