$1 Billion Divorce Award

money in a pileOklahoma oil man Harold Hamm is the chief executive and majority shareholder o of Continental Resources which is the greatest oil discovery of our age in the plains of North Dakota.  His net worth has been estimated at more than $18 billion by Forbes, making him the 24th richest man in the country.  Mr. Hamm’s does everything big, and now he is paying one of the biggest divorce awards in history.

A judge in Oklahoma City has ruled that Mr. Hamm must pay nearly $1 billion to his ex-wife, Sue Ann Hamm. With that award, Ms. Hamm will join the ranks of the wealthiest women in the United States.  The judgment requires Mr. Hamm to pay his ex-wife about $320 million, or one-third of the total settlement, by the end of 2014. The rest is to be paid in chunks of at least $7 million a month.

The Hamm’s did not have a prenuptial agreement, which the New York Times has reported as being the costliest decision of Mr. Hamm’s life particularly taking into consideration that he has already paid his ex-wife roughly $25 million since the case was filed in 2012.

When they married in 1988, Mr. Hamm was just beginning the purchase of roughly one million acres of land leases in North Dakota, Montana and parts of Canada which turned out to be a rich underground trove. The question at the center of the divorce trial was what exactly led Mr. Hamm to it.  Was it expertise or just luck?

Under Oklahoma law, the answer matters. The money a spouse earns while married can be part of a divorce settlement if it is made through skill. If, on the other hand, the increase is attributable to “changing economic conditions, or circumstances beyond the parties’ control,” then that money is off the table.

The law put Mr. Hamm and his lawyers in an odd position.  They had to argue that Mr. Hamm had essentially stumbled into his billions.  The Judge did not buy this just-lucky account of Mr. Hamm’s accomplishments. In arriving at the settlement terms, the judge cited Mr. Hamm’s “skills and efforts” in the increase in value.  Even after this ruling, Mr. Hamm remains one of the richest. As a fraction of his net worth, the settlement leaves him with many billions to spare.

Ms. Hamm has appealed saying the $1 Billion Divorce Award was not big enough and Harold Hamm has appealed saying the award was erroneous and inequitable.  Stay Tuned.

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