Depp V. Heard: Custody Takeaways Associated to Substance Use and Abuse | Kohrman Jackson & Krantz LLP


For the past few weeks, news outlets and social media platforms have been debating the current moment celebrity trial – Depp vs. Heard – which is currently taking place in Fairfax County, Virginia. From a legal standpoint, the Depp v. Heard trial is a defamation lawsuit brought by actor Johnny Depp against his former wife, actress Amber Heard.

Because the trial was public – and indeed publicly broadcast via CourtTV and other streaming services – the ongoing court case, which has so far included testimonies from Mr Depp and Ms Heard, has provided a detailed behind-closed-doors look into this particular celebrity marriage. In this process, what has been revealed can only be described as extremely disturbing on the whole due to the virtually never-ending stream of shocking revelations about the couple and their relationship, including mutual allegations of serious domestic violence and mutual significant substance abuse. Indeed, the statements so far contain numerous allegations and alleged examples of Mr Depp and Ms Heard’s alcohol and drug abuse.

As you may have noticed, this article has to do with substance abuse in particular Custody Matters. Apparently, the Depp v. Heard lawsuit is a civil defamation lawsuit and therefore has nothing to do with child custody. In fact, no children were born of Mr. Depp and Ms. Heard’s relationship or marriage. What insights can Depp v. So Heard might offer us when it comes to a custody case?

The answer is simple: this lawsuit, while unrelated to child custody, involves many of the very real allegations and issues of serious substance abuse that often underlie and are highly relevant to some of the most controversial child custody cases . Certainly, these types of accusations and demands are extremely common in any kind of domestic relationship affairs, including divorces without children. However, for domestic relations and juvenile courts, these types of allegations tend to have a very different meaning when child custody is at stake.

So what does a party need to show in order to make a compelling case in court that a parent used drugs in connection with a child custody case? In particular, Depp v. Heard provides a helpful starting point for answering this question.


First, in a custody case, mere allegations or allegations by one party about the other parent’s frequent drug use and/or abuse is usually not sufficient evidence for a court to impose custody limitations or severe measures on the parent in question, such as B. outright loss of custody, supervised visitation, or drug testing. This is not because these types of claims are generally taken lightly by a court. Instead, this is simply a product of the fact that it is extremely common for at least one party (if not both parties) to bring drug abuse allegations against the other party in connection with any domestic relationship case, be it a custody case, a divorce case or something else.

To this end, it is imperative that if a party makes an allegation of drug abuse in connection with a custody case, that party must also be able to provide concrete, recent evidence of drug abuse on their part of the other parent. While direct evidence is preferable, including photos, videos, text messages, audio recordings, etc., circumstantial evidence of potential drug abuse can also be valuable. Social media can also often be a treasure trove of helpful evidence.

The evidence so far related to Depp v. Heard are a great example. Indeed, along with statements regarding the other party’s alleged drug abuse, both Ms Heard and Mr Depp have produced a substantial amount of photographic, recorded and video evidence of the other party’s alleged drug use and abuse. While this visual and aural evidence is not inherently conclusive, it objectively provides a measure of tangible support for each party’s drug abuse allegations against the other party.

The fine line between occasional substance use and substance abuse

Second, in child custody cases, solid evidence of occasional drug use is often insufficient in and of itself to prove a disqualifying problem with one (or both) parents. This is certainly not because a parent’s occasional substance use is never a problem. Instead, the reality is that the line between occasional drug use by a parent and substance abuse is a fine and potentially subjective one. From the court’s perspective, the latter is often more worrying than the former.

Obviously this is somewhat dependent on the substance being claimed and the amount of substance consumed. For example, in a child custody case, a parent’s occasional social use of alcohol or marijuana is not usually viewed by the court in quite the same way as occasional use of a controlled substance such as cocaine or methamphetamine. However, a parent’s occasional but excessive alcohol use can be considered to be just as worrying as a parent’s one-time use of cocaine. The fact is, then, that just as society tends to view different substances slightly differently, for better or for worse, so do domestic relations and the juvenile courts.

Once again, the evidence presented so far in Depp v. Heart insightful. Indeed, both Mr Depp and Ms Heard have gone to great lengths to back up their claims that each respective party uses different types and grades of different substances, both controlled and otherwise, with some degree of regularity. To this end, the circumstances alleged by the parties seem to paint a convincing (and worrying) picture of the specific substances allegedly used and the amounts in which those substances were allegedly consumed.


Third, the judicial perception of a parent’s occasional substance use also depends to some extent on when and where the alleged substance use occurs. Indeed, if there is evidence showing parental drug use while the minor child is present or otherwise caring for him/her, it is likely to be viewed by the court in a different, more problematic light as it affects custody of the child, regardless of the substance in question.

The same is also true in relation to evidence of a parent’s recent drug use compared to the same parent’s prior drug use. While evidence of past drug use can of course be helpful in substantiating claims of a parent’s current drug use, it is a simple reality that courts in the context of custody cases will give more weight to recent evidence demonstrating a parent’s recent substance use .

Similarly, evidence of how the parent in question is alleged to behave or act when using the substance in question is also often relevant in the context of a custody analysis. For example, if the affected parent presents evidence that the other parent becomes extremely violent or erratic in using the substance in question — or otherwise makes poor choices in using the substance — this can also carry significant weight in a child custody case.

At present, those in Depp v. Evidence presented by Heard reflects these principles. In fact, both Mr Depp’s and Ms Heard’s lawyers presented evidence during the trial to show that each party not only has a history of drug problems, but also when each party was involved in drug use – even occasionally – he or she she became increasingly violent, erratic, or otherwise inconsistent.

So what did the circumstances of the Depp v. Heard overall when it comes to drug use and abuse issues in child custody cases? In its simplest form, when allegations of drug use and/or abuse by a parent are made in a child custody case, it is important to present a tangible and holistic picture of all the circumstances involved. Ultimately, this puts the affected parent in the best position to bring the most compelling case to court.

Child custody cases involving drug use and/or abuse can be emotionally challenging and otherwise difficult for the parties to manage. That’s where we come in.

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