In equitable property division states, hindsight may be 50/50 p2

We are talking about Harold Hamm, a billionaire in the U.S. gas and oil business, and the issues he and his wife have run up against in their divorce. The couple separated in 2012 after more than two decades of marriage, and it was an eventful two decades for Hamm’s business interests. He owns 66 percent of Continental Resources, a company that has profited nicely from the Bakken Shale and that has netted Hamm about $13 billion since its initial public offering in 2007.

The couple is not in Missouri, but like Missouri their state is an equitable division of property state. In a community property state, marital property is split 50/50 between the spouses. In an equitable division state, marital property — both assets and debts — is divided fairly between the spouses. Either the couple, with the help of their attorneys, or the court first determines what constitutes marital property and then applies the principles of equitable distribution.

In the Hamms’ case, the most complicated and most contentious question may be the 125 million shares of Continental. The court ruled recently that the shares were Hamm’s property before the marriage, so they are not marital property that must be divided. This is a comfort in many ways to the company and the other shareholders, because the company has done well under his stewardship.

There were two parts to the court’s decision, though. The court ruled only that the value of the shares at the time the couple married should be counted as non-marital property. The court has yet to decide if the appreciation in the value of those shares is marital property. If we were talking about the period from the IPO and today, that appreciation would amount to $13 billion.

The court’s work does not stop there. We explain in our next post.

Source: Tulsa World, “Divorce could affect Oklahoma billionaire Harold Hamm’s controlling stake in oil company,” Bloomberg News, March 20, 2014

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