Monday, June 17, 2013
Lack of Prenuptial Agreement Complicates Oil Baron's Divorce
A man once considered to be one of the most influential people in the world now reportedly stands to lose a good chunk of his fortune during his divorce.
What is reportedly the main culprit? Not the oil baron’s alleged infidelity, but the lack of a prenuptial agreement.
Harold Hamm, chief executive at Continental Resources, is in the middle of divorcing his wife of 25 years, according to Reuters. An article on CNBC says it could end up being the costliest divorce settlement in history and threaten the stability of Continental Resources.
Settlement Could Exceed $3 Billion
Such a divorce settlement could cost Hamm $3 billion or more, which would make his wife one of the 20 wealthiest women in the United States. Forbes estimated earlier this year that Oprah Winfrey’s fortune is estimated at $2.8 billion. Hamm’s fortune is estimated to be at least $11 billion.
Sue Ann Hamm, 56, is a former attorney at Continental Resources. She and her estranged husband have two daughters.
According to the CNBC article:
The couple tried to quietly litigate their divorce by filing anonymously as Jane Doe v. John Doe in an Oklahoma court last year. But many details have emerged since Reuters got wind of the story.
Couple Agree To Two Key Terms
Sue Ann is reportedly alleging that her husband was unfaithful. However, the couple have reportedly agreed to two key terms: a no-fault divorce and to set the date of separation at sometime in May 2012. The separation of assets would then be based on the estimated wealth of the couple on that date, which is key because the value of Continental Resources has nearly quintupled since 2007.
Oklahoma law allocates assets based on “equitable distribution,” which means assets are divided based on what’s fair, not equal.
Court to Decide How Much Wife Contributed
It’s unclear how Harold Hamm, who reportedly owns more oil in the ground than anyone else in the United States, would produce the necessary settlement sum. Continental Resources spokespeople declined to comment to the media on the matter, saying the divorce is a private matter.
But a costly settlement could affect the future of Continental Resources since Hamm owns 68 percent of the company. If Hamm decides to sell a portion of his share, he may no longer be the majority shareholder and other owners could become more powerful in the company.
The divorce case is reportedly entering the “valuation phase,” where the judge must decide how much Hamm’s own hand and his wife’s support together played in the success of Continental, or whether outside forces had a bigger role. Sue Ann would stand to get more if the judge finds that Hamm, with his wife’s support, was instrumental in guiding the company to success.
Hamm’s rags-to-riches story might work against him. He is the 13th child of an Oklahoma sharecropper who first started out at age 20 scrubbing scum from oil barrels. Just a few years later, he discovered a 75-barrel a day oil gusher and catapulted his earnings into a university education that led him to found Continental in 1967. Continental gradually grew, finding most of its financial success after 2007.
Legal experts are estimating that the final settlement could possibly go 60 percent higher than Rupert Murdoch’s last divorce, currently the highest divorce settlement ever.
Photo credit: Tax Credits
Eric Aretsky has been practicing law in Bergen County since 1991. After earning his Juris Doctorate from New York Law School in 1990, Mr. Aretsky served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Conrad W. Krafte (Retired)
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