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  • Zelena van der Leeden, MC, CDC®

Divorce, Money & Abuse: how the rich punish through recreational litigation

I hate gossip and sensationalism, but it is hard to escape news like the Depp and Heard defamation trial these days. This beautiful couple have been at war for years. Heard accuses Depp of being abusive and Depp claims she was the abuser. This is the perfect example of a toxic relationship.


As Certified Divorce Coaches, running a social enterprise, we have made an effort to offer subsidies and pro-bono services to victims of abuse and to people facing financial hardship. We also work with highly educated individuals who make 6 and 7 figures each year and this is what we’ve learned from rulings, research and our client’s testimony:


1. Mental illness does not discriminate:

People deal with problems and challenges differently. Fear makes us run, freeze or fight. What we do, or not do, as a result of our fear can have serious consequences: guilt, shame, mood/eating disorders, anxiety, substance dependency, to name a few.


Everyone grows up with issues because of the way they were raised, the resources that they had and their life experiences. This is why relationships are so hard: you may have had similar backgrounds, but every family is different and not one of them is perfect.

If you grew up thinking that yelling and hitting was an appropriate way to discipline, you might tend to act in the same way towards others. If you were taught to lie and cheat, you might end up repeating the pattern.


There seems to be a general understanding that if you were a victim of sexual or physical abuse, you are allowed to be fucked up. However, if you grew up in a nice home, with good parents and had everything you needed, you should be a stable and productive member of society.


This needs to change.


Everyone can struggle emotionally and the problems of a privileged married white man might seem ridiculous in comparison to the problems of an abused single black mother, but we need to stop comparing ourselves to others and start focusing on acknowledging our feelings.


We’ve all heard success stories from people who faced the unimaginable and we’ve all heard stories of people who have broken down or ended their lives over a break-up. Were they weak? No. They might have suffered from mental illness and were never able or allowed to seek help. They might have found themselves alone and unable to see any light amidst the darkness.


We can all be resilient, as long as we have a support network that will give us the tools to heal and help us find the resources to start over. Does everyone have access to a support network and to unlimited resources to help them overcome challenges and traumatic events? No. This is why issues like systemic discrimination create never ending cycles of suffering. Without equity there will never be equality. Until every human can have free access to an efficient healthcare system that understands the importance of mental health, there will be no moving forward. All we can do for now is to help who we can, how we can. One act of kindness at a time.



Photo by Nando Vidal via iStock


2. Toxic relationships usually end in high-conflict divorces

They say you don’t know who you marry, until you divorce them because that is when people show their true colours. I disagree with that statement. You may have been unable to see your partner’s true colours while you were dating or during the marriage, but that doesn’t mean they were not waving red flags at you all along.


Immaturity, naivety and social pressure can blind us. Maybe you were raised thinking that if you didn’t marry and have children by a certain age, you were not worthy. Maybe you were brought up under a religion that claims that marriages are sacred and forever. Maybe you wanted to emulate what your parents did and stayed in an unhappy marriage because of the kids.


If you had a toxic relationship with your former spouse, chances are you won’t have an amicable divorce. If there are children or assets to divide, you might be facing a long legal battle, but know that there is blame on both sides of toxic relationships. Depp and Heard's marriage counselor testified in court that they were both abusive. One insults, the other hits; one yells, the other throws things. I am not an expert in human psychology, but if someone has struggled with substance abuse for years, chances are, they are using drugs/alcohol to make themselves feel better temporarily.


Depp and Heard might have been victims of abuse or suffered trauma in the past, maybe we’ll never know what happened in their past, and to be honest, I don’t think it is our business. The bottom line is that toxic relationships can be addictive too. Some people crave drama because they like the attention that comes after a big fight. Some fight back because they are attacked. Some stay in abusive relationships because they fear retaliation or don’t see a way out, but there is always a way out. You are not alone and there are people and organizations that can help you, so please reach out for help if you are a victim of abuse or feel trapped in a toxic relationship.


3. Rich folks have the power to practice recreational litigation

After being immersed in the divorce world through personal experience and work for over 5 years, we have seen and heard it all. Underserved groups may have more shocking divorce stories: violence, substance abuse and neglect are quite common, but we all know that is a system flaw after reading the first point of this blog. This is why people are shocked when a successful parent kills their spouse and children, but they are not as shocked when it happens on a reservation or in a dangerous neighbourhood. We are shocked because we don’t expect people with seemingly perfect lives and no “real” problems, to act irrationally.


We don’t seem shocked however, when we hear stories of rich people fighting each other “the classy” way in court. Some people spend years of their lives in court because they can afford it. They are willing to spend millions of dollars just to get back at their exes. With higher levels of education and income brackets, come other issues, usually related to ego.


Depp vs Heard is sadly not the only case we’ve heard where a party files a civil lawsuit after a divorce. People with money tend to have inflated egos and if they feel their image being threatened they will retaliate and keep the conflict going until one party gives up the fight. Depp did not want to be accused of being a wife beater. He tried to sue a newspaper because of this, but failed. He then tried to sue his ex for spreading “false” allegations and then she filed a counter lawsuit because he is saying she lied about being abused, hence defaming her back.


This might seem ridiculous and a waste of time and money to us mere mortals, but know that bruised egos and too much money are a recipe for disaster. Add mental illness and/or substance abuse and you’ll have cases like Depp vs Heard in every courtroom around the world.


I don’t know who will win this trial, but both movie stars could use some therapy and divorce coaching and the same goes to anyone who is struggling to let go of their former spouse or to move on with their lives. If hate is consuming you and you find yourself trapped in a never ending legal battle, you might need to get your priorities straight and talk to a professional.


Spending your life in court, even if money is not an issue, will consume you. Depp and Heard have been having issues for almost 10 years and they have everything to succeed: money, support, successful careers. They have access to resources to heal, but are choosing not to: maybe because their publicists and managers have instructed them to do so because it might bring an Oscar down the road, or maybe because their egos are not letting them see the big picture.


Yes, defamation can damage someone’s career, but do you really think that Johnny Depp is going to be out of a job because his ex said he hit her? This could have been solved with a statement from the actor after the first allegations came out. People will believe what they want to believe.


This is an invitation to let go of your ego. To look at your life and get in touch with your essence. Are you happy? If the answer is no, then find out what is lacking and go get it. If you don’t know how to get there, reach out for help. Our world may have many issues, but it has millions of people who want to help others succeed. We are two of them and we are always here to help if you are struggling emotionally because with your divorce.





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