Divorce and Narcissism: the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial

Adam Maguire
Adam Maguire

Divorce lawyer Adam Maguire from national law firm Clarke Willmott LLP, looks at the ongoing Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial and how narcissism can make divorce difficult.


The libel trial of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard is dominating new headlines and dividing Hollywood. It has been reported that an American radio host has branded Johnny Depp a “narcissist” following the giving of his evidence. Johnny Depp reportedly similarly used the term to describe Amber Heard in his previous libel case against News Group Newspapers Ltd, publisher of The Sun newspaper, which was heard in London.


The current trial has not yet concluded but what is narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), how can this affect your divorce and what are some of the issues highlighted by this case in relation to allegations of domestic abuse?


NPD is one of a number of personality disorders which cause a person to think, feel or behave differently from the average person. This particular disorder is one which is generally characterised by individuals believing they are special, better or more deserving than others, fragile self-esteem, resentment of other’s success, putting their own needs above those of others and expecting others to do likewise, and a need for control and to dominate.


Divorce is often unpleasant at the best of times, but divorcing someone with NPD or narcissistic tendencies can be a whole different experience. At Clarke Willmott we have years of experience dealing with cases where one of the parties is either diagnosed with this personality disorder or one of the parties believes their former partner has undiagnosed NPD. Those with NPD may seek to use the divorce proceedings and any associated financial or children proceedings as a form of coercive control over the other party, dragging out the process and presenting themselves as the victim no matter what the evidence shows or what findings are made by the court.


In those kinds of cases, you may need to be prepared for the long haul and should instruct a solicitor who is experienced in this area and able to tackle the kinds of issues you may be faced with as a result, which can include the person with NPD needing to win at all costs, no matter the resultant fall out for either of you, your wider family or any children.


Your solicitor will be able to discuss the process with you and whether alternative forms of dispute resolution (which should always be considered even if immediately discounted) are at all appropriate, given the circumstances. Mediation, for example, can often be inappropriate if there is a power imbalance or where there has been abusive behaviour and can unnecessarily prolong matters. A firmer more assertive approach may be required to safeguard your interests and those of the children where NPD is a feature.


Various allegations of abuse are being made in the ongoing proceedings between Depp and Heard. These are being aired on national television and around the globe. Although it is receiving a lot of media coverage in the UK and elsewhere those facing such proceedings should be reassured that this kind of spectacle has no place in the Family Courts here.

The court should put in place special measures to protect victims of domestic abuse, whether male or female, and take account of the vulnerability of witnesses in cases which feature abuse. Practice Direction 12J of the Family Procedure Rules is designed to address this in proceedings relating to children and specifically references special arrangements to protect parties in respect of the waiting arrangements at court prior to the hearing, arrangements for entering and exiting the court building and asking the alleged victim of domestic abuse how best he or she wishes to participate. This can include, for example, the use of screens so the alleged victim does not have to see the alleged perpetrator.


Whatever the result of this case and whoever the court may find is telling the truth, the allegations are serious and giving evidence in cases of domestic abuse can cause further trauma to a victim in any case. It can hardly be imagined broadcasting such testimony as a form of entertainment and a worldwide media frenzy would make this any easier. Here, the Family Court of England and Wales has made improvements that take account of these issues and, with the support of an experienced and sensitive solicitor, the distress of having to relive such experiences can, so far as possible, be minimised.


Adam Maguire is a divorce and family partner with Clarke Willmott, specialising in advising on the complex financial issues arising out of divorce.


Clarke Willmott is a national law firm with offices in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, London, Manchester, Southampton and Taunton.

For more information visit www.clarkewillmott.com

 

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