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Amber Heard verdict: What happens if she can't pay the $15 million judgment?

Verdict read in Johnny Depp-Amber Heard case
Jury awards $15 million to Johnny Depp, $2 million to Amber Heard in defamation case 11:47

A jury that found Amber Heard guilty of defaming ex-husband Johnny Depp has ordered her to pay $15 million in damages, posing financial risks for the 36-year-old actress, according to experts. 

Although Heard's wealth is unclear, she has earned millions for her work in TV and films such as "Aquaman" and "Aquaman 2." She previously received a $7 million settlement from Depp after their 2016 divorce, which she pledged to donate to charities including the American Civil Liberties Union. During the trial she said she hadn't yet fulfilled the pledge because of Depp's lawsuit.

But testimony during the trial suggested that Heard's career had stalled due to the legal battle with Depp, according to Newsweek. That may raise questions about whether Heard's pockets are deep enough to cover the damages, which included $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages, although the latter was reduced to Virginia's cap of $350,000 on such awards. 

While Heard could appeal the verdict, she would have to post a bond for the full $10.35 million judgment, plus interest, as the appeal proceeds, according to attorney Sandra Spurgeon of Spurgeon Law Group in Lexington, Kentucky. 

"For an individual who doesn't have the ability to pay the judgment and no ability to post the bond, then there is a real issue if the winning party intends to execute the judgment," Spurgeon told CBS MoneyWatch. 

By comparison, the jury awarded Heard $2 million in the lawsuit. Depp, 58, earned as much as $650 million over one 13-year period, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Even so, a former manager and agent testified during the trial that his spending — such as $300,000 a month on full-time staff — had eroded his wealth over time. 

Heard didn't address the financial terms of the verdict in a statement she published on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon in which she expressed "disappointment" at the jury's decision. Here are Heard's options following the highly publicized verdict:

Appeal the judgment

As noted above, Heard could appeal the verdict in hopes of getting a more favorable judgment and reducing the payment. But in the meantime, she would have to post a bond for the full $10.35 million in damages, which may or may not be feasible, Spurgeon said.

Not enough money? Wages could be garnished

If Heard decides against an appeal but doesn't have enough money to pay the judgment, she could end up with her current and future wages garnished, according to legal experts. 

"The question is if she says, 'Look, I don't have it. It's not there — you can look in my bank accounts,' then we can talk about things like garnishing her wages," said CBS News legal contributor Jessica Levinson.

She added, "That's not an unusual situation where somebody says, 'I don't have — I can't fulfill this,' and so I certainly think because she has earning potential" part of her wages could be garnished as a result.

File for bankruptcy

Heard also has the option of filing for bankruptcy, which would eliminate the $10 million in compensatory damages, Spurgeon said. But she'd still be on the hook for the $350,000 in punitive damages, which generally can't be discharged in a bankruptcy. 

Depp could decide to waive the judgment 

Depp could also decide not to execute the judgment, in effect waiving the monetary damages, Spurgeon said. 

"He's in the driver's seat right now," she said, noting that Depp also could negotiate with Heard for a lower dollar figure.

In his Instagram comment after the verdict, Depp didn't indicate whether he intends to pursue the monetary judgment against Heard. He wrote that the "goal of bringing this case was to reveal the truth, regardless of the outcome." 

He added, "I feel at peace knowing I have finally accomplished that."

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