On another posting, PN said
I apologize if this is terribly off-topic, but can we get some legal analysis on the following story:
Johnny Depp — worth $400M — is being divorced by his actress wife of 15 months. No pre-nup. Does she get half?
Given that the other posting was about an avionics fire in an Airbus A320, I think PN should get an award for “most off topic question ever”! (Though a lot of American divorce plaintiffs do bring a violence angle to their litigation.)
The cited CNN article is interesting for its euphemistic language. She is a lawsuit plaintiff trying to get money out of a defendant (see a California judge’s perspective in “Divorce Litigation”). But the journalist does not write “Amber Heard sues Johnny Depp for divorce, alimony, cash, and her attorney’s fees” which would be an accurate way to describe the “petition” (“complaint” in many other states), whose full text is available at TMZ.
Under California’s community property law, in theory Depp’s premarital savings should be off limits to a divorce plaintiff. If Heard had gotten pregnant during the marriage she would be on track for 18 years of profitable (unlimited in California; see the Ellen Pao analysis) child support (see Scenario 4 in this chapter for a similar fact pattern).
Everything can be litigated, though, and spousal support (alimony) that she is suing for is discretionary with the judge. Lawyers told us that judges like to make sure that women get paid for having sex and within the divorce industry it is common to refer to the length of the marriage as “time served” by a female plaintiff. So Heard could probably count on a larger profit from this encounter with Depp than what she would have earned by going to college and working for a lifetime at the median college graduate wage. On the other hand it will probably be nowhere near $200 million. The lawyers will make out handsomely due to the fact that all of Depp’s assets can be examined, at an hourly fee, to determine which are community property and which are not (Heard’s lawsuit explicitly contemplates her lawyers figuring out what she might have a claim to). To calculate spousal support there needs to be a thorough examination of Heard’s need for alimony and Depp’s ability to pay (see the statute), so everything that each spends can be investigated by lawyers charging close to $1000/hour. They can also litigate the question of who pays for legal fees.
My prediction: When the dust settles the lawyers will have gotten paid a fortune, but Heard won’t net much more from her acquaintance with Depp than what she could have obtained by having quiet one-night encounters with a couple of successful married radiologists and collecting 23 years of child support under Massachusetts law. Heard has no incentive to try to reduce the cost or complexity of this lawsuit because she presumably expects the court to order Depp to pay all of her legal fees (i.e., the defendant will pay for the lawyers on both sides and thus the plaintiff is under no pressure to settle for less than the very maximum she thinks that she might be able to obtain at a trial).