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

The Monday morning quarterbacks among divorce attorneys could very well be watching Harold Hamm’s divorce and thinking, “If ever there were an argument for a prenuptial agreement, this is it.” Hamm is the 44th richest person in the world, worth about $17.5 billion.

For those among us who are not familiar with Hamm, the source of his wealth is Continental Resources, a gas and oil company that is a major player in the Bakken Shale. We know the Bakken Shale here in Missouri because it is the first major stop in the U.S. of the much-debated Keystone Pipeline.

Hamm and his wife, Sue Ann, married in 1988. Hamm was already wealthy as the majority shareholder in Continental Resources. He was, however, a few decades away from being extremely wealthy, as he was when the couple split up in 2012. For an idea of the kind of money we’re talking about, look at the company’s growth over the years: Records show that revenue was $22.1 million in 1993; sales had increased to $3.5 billion by 2013. Continental Resources went public in 2007; since then, Hamm’s 66 percent share has added $13 billion to his net worth.

That revenue, the increase in value of the stock, is at the center of the couple’s two-year battle over property division. Like Missouri, their home state is an equitable distribution state. Rather than splitting everything both spouses acquired during their marriage down the middle, the court has some tricky decisions to make about which assets (and debts) are pre-marital property and which are marital property. Once that’s done, the task becomes even more complicated.

In the Hamms’ case, it looked for a while as if one of those complications could involve control of Continental Resources itself. We’ll explain more 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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