Johnny Depp and Amber Heard: A timeline of their relationship, allegations, and court battles

Following Depp’s $50m defamation lawsuit in Virginia, Clémence Michallon looks at the former couple’s legal history

Sunday 21 May 2023 20:45 BST
Johnny Depp vs Amber Heard
Johnny Depp vs Amber Heard (AP)

The trial in Johnny Depp’s defamation lawsuit against Amber Heard drew to a close with a civil jury handing him an overwhelming victory after weeks of dramatic and harrowing testimony.

Depp sued Heard in March 2019, alleging a column Heard wrote in The Washington Post about domestic violence was defamatory and asking for $50m in damages. Heard filed a $100m countersuit.

After a six-week trial in Fairfax, Virginia, the jury returned a verdict on 1 June 2022 after deliberating for around two-and-a-half days.

Here is a timeline of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s relationship, separation, and court battles, from when they are said to have started dating to the year after their trial:

2012: Johnny Depp and Amber Heard start dating

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard are believed to have started dating that year, after Depp split from his longtime partner, French actor Vanessa Paradis. Depp and Paradis have two children: a daughter named Lily-Rose and a son named Jack.

Heard and Depp are believed to have met on the set of the 2011 film The Rum Diary, in which they both starred.

March 2014: Johnny Depp and Amber Heard get engaged

Johnny Depp confirms that he and Amber Heard are engaged, after a couple of months of speculation. “The fact that I’m wearing a chick’s ring on my finger is probably a dead giveaway,” he says while promoting the film Transcendence. “Not very subtle.”

February 2015: Johnny Depp and Amber Heard get married

Amber Heard and Johnny Depp marry. According to People magazine, they had two ceremonies: the first at Depp’s home in Los Angeles, and the second at Depp’s private island in the Bahamas.

Amber Heard and Johnny Depp at a gala on 9 January 2016 in Culver City, California
Amber Heard and Johnny Depp at a gala on 9 January 2016 in Culver City, California (Alison Buck/Getty Images)

May 2016: Amber Heard files for divorce

Amber Heard files for divorce from Johnny Depp, citing irreconcilable differences. That same month, a judge grants Heard a restraining order against Depp over allegations of domestic violence on his part.

In a sworn declaration, Heard alleges that Depp threw a cellphone at her during a fight, which struck her in the eye and the cheek, and that he screamed at her, hit her, violently grabbed her face, and pulled her hair. According to The Associated Press, she submits to the court a photo of her bruised face when requesting the restraining order.

Heard is seen with “a bruise on her right cheek below the eye”, per the AP, during a court appearance.

“During the entirety of our relationship, Johnny has been verbally and physically abusive to me,” Heard writes in the filing. “I endured excessive emotional, verbal and physical abuse from Johnny, which has included angry, hostile, humiliating and threatening assaults to me whenever I questioned his authority or disagreed with him.”

She also writes: “I live in fear that Johnny will return to (our house) unannounced to terrorize me, physically and emotionally.”

Depp has denied the allegations of domestic abuse. His lawyers alleged in a court document in 2016 that Heard was “attempting to secure a premature financial resolution by alleging abuse”.

The LAPD said in May 2016 that police officers who responded to a domestic incident radio call on the 21 of that month found “no evidence of any crime”. Heard’s legal team has since subpoenaed the LAPD in connection to that same call as part of the ongoing defamation court case opposing Heard and Depp.

Amber Heard’s lawyer Samantha Spector (left) arrives for a court appearance on 9 August 2016 in Los Angeles
Amber Heard’s lawyer Samantha Spector (left) arrives for a court appearance on 9 August 2016 in Los Angeles (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

August 2016: Johnny Depp and Amber Heard settle their divorce

After months of contentious proceedings, Depp and Heard reach a settlement in their divorce.

“Our relationship was intensely passionate and at times volatile, but always bound by love,” the pair say in a joint statement at the time. “Neither party has made false accusations for financial gain. There was never any intent of physical or emotional harm.”

Heard pledges to donate the $7m from Depp to the American Civil Liberties Union and the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. (In August 2021, a New York judge partially granted a petition from Depp to determine whether donations had been made.)

January 2017: The divorce is official

Depp and Heard formally finalize their divorce.

“We are all pleased to put this unpleasant chapter in Mr Depp and his family’s lives behind them,” Depp’s attorney Laura Wasser writes in a statement. “Having his request for entry of the dissolution judgment granted today made it a particularly lucky Friday the 13th.”

Heard’s lawyer tells Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Carl H Moor that his client “would be very happy to move on with her life”.

June 2018: Johnny Depp sues over The Sun headline

On 1 June 2018, Depp sues News Group Newspapers, the company that publishes The Sun, for alleged libel over an article published in the tabloid newspaper in April of that year, with the headline: “Gone Potty: How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?”

Depp would eventually lose the case.

December 2018: Amber Heard publishes an op-ed

On 18 December 2018, Amber Heard publishes an op-ed in The Washington Post titled: “I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.”

In it, she writes in part: “Like many women, I had been harassed and sexually assaulted by the time I was of college age. But I kept quiet — I did not expect filing complaints to bring justice. And I didn’t see myself as a victim.

“Then two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.”

Depp isn’t mentioned by name in the op-ed. The op-ed would later become the basis of the $50m defamation lawsuit filed by Depp naming Heard as a defendant.

March 2019: Johnny Depp sues Amber Heard

Depp files a $50m lawsuit against Heard, alleging she defamed him in her Washington Post op-ed.

“The op-ed depended on the central premise that Ms Heard was a domestic abuse victim and that Mr Depp perpetrated domestic violence against her,” the complaint alleges in part, calling the claim of domestic abuse “categorically and demonstrably false”.

Amber Heard makes a statement as she leaves court after the final day of the libel trial by Johnny Depp against News Group Newspapers in London on 28 July 2020
Amber Heard makes a statement as she leaves court after the final day of the libel trial by Johnny Depp against News Group Newspapers in London on 28 July 2020 (NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP via Getty Images)

July 2020: Johnny Depp’s lawsuit against The Sun goes to trial

The trial opens on 7 July 2020 in London. Johnny Depp and Amber Heard both arrive at the High Court of Justice, with Heard scheduled to testify in support of The Sun.

Depp’s lawyers argue he is seeking “vindication”, not money, and Depp himself denies the allegations of domestic abuse. A spokesperson for Heard tells Vanity Fair Heard “never asked for these proceedings to take place” and “has tried to move on with her life”.

The trial lasts for three weeks, with explosive allegations emerging as part of the evidence and testimony. The proceedings wrap up at the end of July.

Johnny Depp departs from the court on 28 July 2020 in London
Johnny Depp departs from the court on 28 July 2020 in London (Stuart C Wilson/Getty Images)

August 2020: Amber Heard countersues

Heard files a $100m countersuit against Depp in response to his libel lawsuit, accusing him of allegedly orchestrating a “smear campaign” against her and describing his own lawsuit as a continuation of “abuse and harassment.”

In the filing, Heard asks the court to grant her immunity from Depp’s complaint and asks for compensatory damages of “not more than $100m”, specifying this is “twice the amount Mr Depp asserted against Ms Heard.”

November 2020: Johnny Depp loses his libel battle against The Sun

The court rules in favour of The Sun in the libel lawsuit. Justice Andrew Nicol said the defendants proved that their allegations against Depp were “substantially true,” The Associated Press reports at the time.

“I have found that the great majority of alleged assaults of Ms. Heard by Mr. Depp have been proved to the civil standard,” the judge writes in a ruling.

An attorney for Depp calls the judgment “so flawed that it would be ridiculous for Mr Depp not to appeal this decision”.

March 2021: Johnny Depp is denied permission to appeal loss in The Sun case

Two court of appeal judges find against granting Depp permission to appeal the judge’s decision in his libel suit against The Sun.

Per the AP, Justices James Dingemans and Nicholas Underhill ruled that the original hearing was “full and fair” and the judge’s rulings “have not been shown even arguably to be vitiated by any error of approach or mistake of law.”

Dingemans and Underhill found that “the appeal has no real prospect of success and that there is no other compelling reason for it to be heard.”

“It is clear from a reading of the judgment as a whole that the judge based his conclusions on each of the incidents on his extremely detailed review of the evidence specific to each incident,” they said.

“In an approach of that kind there was little need or room for the judge to give weight to any general assessment of Ms Heard’s credibility.”

Amber Heard walks the runway as part of Paris Fashion Week on 3 October 2021 in Paris, France
Amber Heard walks the runway as part of Paris Fashion Week on 3 October 2021 in Paris, France (Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images For L'Oreal)

11 April 2022: Defamation case goes to trial in Virginia

The trial in Depp’s defamation case against Heard began on 11 April 2022 in Fairfax, Virginia. (The Washington Post, in which Heard’s op-ed was published, has printing facilities in the state.)

Depp suffered a significant setback before the trial began when the judge in the case, Virginia Judge Penney Azcarate, found that Heard could argue that her op-ed deals with a matter of public interest.

Per the AP, Depp’s legal team had tried to argue that Heard shouldn’t be able to rely on Virginia’s anti-SLAPP legislation. Anti-SLAPP laws, which stand for anti-Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, are designed to protect people from being sued when they speak out on matters of public interest.

Judge Azcarate ruled that Heard could, in fact, invoke Virginia’s anti-SLAPP legislation in her defence and argue to the jury that it should apply to her op-ed.

1 June 2022: Depp prevails in US defamation trial

The jury in the Fairfax case announced its verdict seven weeks after the beginning of the trial.

Jurors found that Heard had defamed Depp in three statements and awarded him more than $10m in damages.

As part of Heard’s counter-suit, they also found that a lawyer for Depp defamed Heard in one of three statements highlighted in the filing. Heard was awarded $2m in damages.

21 July 2022: Heard says she will appeal judgement

Heard’s lawyers filed a notice of appeal in Fairfax County Circuit Court, notifying the Virginia Court of Appeals that Heard intends to appeal the judgment, as well as rulings the judge made after the verdict, including rejecting Heard’s request to set aside the verdict and dismiss the lawsuit or order a new trial.

“We believe the court made errors that prevented a just and fair verdict consistent with the First Amendment. We are therefore appealing the verdict,” a spokesperson for Heard said in a statement. “While we realise today’s filing will ignite the Twitter bonfires, there are steps we need to take to ensure both fairness and justice.”

The appeal was officially filed on 7 December 2022.

22 July 2022: Depp says he will appeal judgement

Depp filed a notice of appeal for the $2m awarded to Heard just a day later, stating that he was appealing “all adverse rulings and from the final judgement order.”

“This was an overwhelmingly positive verdict for Mr Depp,” a source told ABC News. “The verdict speaks for itself, and Mr Depp believes that this is a time for both parties to move on with their lives and heal. But if Ms Heard is determined to pursue further litigation by appealing the verdict, Mr Depp is filing a concurrent appeal to ensure that the full record and all relevant legal issues be considered by the Court of Appeal.”

The appeal was officially filed on 3 November 2022.

19 December 2022: Depp and Heard settle appeals

Depp and Heard settled their defamation lawsuits with Heard announcing the decision on social media. Both sides had filed appeals of various aspects of the jury’s verdicts in June.

Depp’s camp said the deal includes a $1m payment from her to him to settle all financial claims. His lawyers said he will donate that money to charity.

“We are pleased to formally close the door on this painful chapter for Mr Depp, who made clear throughout this process that his priority was about bringing the truth to light. The jury’s unanimous decision and the resulting judgement in Mr Depp’s favour against Ms Heard remain fully in place,” his lawyers Benjamin Chew and Camille Vazquez, said.

Heard wrote on Instagram: “I never chose this. I defended my truth and in doing so my life as I knew it was destroyed. The vilification I have faced on social media is an amplified version of the ways in which women are re-victimised when they come forward.”

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