Gossip columns have been filled in recent days with the story that Amber Heard appeared in Court on 27 May sporting a bruised face to obtain a restraining order against her husband Jonny Depp; an order which the Judge duly granted. The restraining order is made against the background of recently filed divorce proceedings.
Mr Depp is alleged to have caused the bruise by launching an iPhone at his wife; however, as more details about the incident come to light, it is alleged that there has been an atmosphere of abuse directed from husband to wife for some time. It is widely accepted now that abuse is not just physical; it can be emotional abuse taking a number of different forms.
It is a situation which arises often in family law matters. In this case, a spokesperson for Mr Depp has suggested that these allegations are only being made now in order to gain a “premature” financial agreement.
Aside from the fact that, in this country at least, Ms Heard would have extreme difficulty convincing a Court that an airborne iPhone should have any impact whatsoever on a financial settlement, it does seem on the face of it that as multi-millionaire Hollywood stars, a Court has more options for relief from her situation than the average person.
During an alleged incident on a private jet flight, Ms Heard hid in the bathroom from a drunken, abusive Depp; however, once they had landed (say that was in England) the options available where there are vast sums of wealth might be far more palatable than for the average family.
In England, Ms Heard would have the option of pursuing a Non-molestation Order from Mr Depp. The normal terms of such an order would prevent Mr Depp from being physically or verbally abusive to Ms Heard or from harassing or threatening her or from encouraging any other person to pursue these courses of action. It can also prevent the person accused of the violence of going within a certain area or within a certain distance of a victim.
That is an option available to most people. It is likely that the restraining order Ms Heard has covers similar ground. In this country, Ms Heard would also have the option of obtaining an Occupation Order. An occupation order can allow one person to remain in the property to the exclusion of another. If the person breaches the order then they can be arrested automatically for that breach.
The court can also order that one party pay the outgoings and bills on the home during the period of the occupation. Reports in the press may suggest that Ms Heard is struggling to meet her (rather vast) outgoings but one suspects that Depp, with an estimated net worth of $400 million (according to the internet) doesn’t have the same difficulties. Ms Heard could remain in the marital home, free from alleged abuse and with her living expenses met by her soon-to-be-ex-husband.
That simply isn’t an option that is available to many families. In the English Courts, occupation orders have been granted where there has been no physical violence but where there is an unpleasant atmosphere (particularly for any children) and it is considered that it would be better for the family if one party moved out. But this has to be an affordable option. Such an order simply would not be made if the “abusive” partner would be rendered homeless.
One option that is often not considered is the Court’s ability to regulate occupation of the home to provide protection in very practical terms. For example, it might assist for the court to order that partners cannot enter each other’s bedrooms. The court can also regulate use of communal areas (kitchen, bathroom etc) so that it can only be used during certain times by one or other of the parties. This can provide the protection of an occupation order in circumstances where it is impossible to create substantial space between the parties.
Domestic abuse can take many forms and the family court may be able to make more helpful orders than people normally consider possible. If you are affected by any of these issues please contact our Family Team on 0207 240 0521.