When a Billion Dollar Divorce Settlement is Not Enough
It was considered to be the divorce of the century, involving Oklahoma oil magnate, Harold Hamm, and his ex-wife, Sue Ann Hamm (Arnall), once a lawyer for her husband’s company prior to her marriage to him. Sue Ann Hamm was awarded assets and cash totalling over a billion dollars. However, by her estimation, the award was not an equitable one, considering Harold Hamm’s $18 billion increased income over their 26-year marriage.
The main issue is when the active portion (increases) of the income began – before or during their marriage. Arnall asserts they happened during the marriage. Hamm suggests they happened before the marriage. Arnall, also an economist by training, intends to appeal, a process that may take up to two years to be resolved. Hamm ended up keeping close to 94 percent of the estimated $18 billion in income derived from Continental shares. The trial judge referred to the shares as separate property. When the divorce trial was in progress Hamm’s Continental was valued at about $18 billion. Since that time period, share prices have fallen due to plummeting oil prices globally.
The complicating factor in this expensive and high profile divorce is that the Hamms did not have a prenuptial agreement. No matter what the law of the resident state suggests, not having a prenuptial agreement makes things far more difficult to resolve for both parties. In Oklahoma for instance, the law states that enhanced premarital property value be divided equitably in the face of a divorce if the enhanced value was the result of either spouses skills and/or efforts during their marriage.
No matter what he said/she said, this settlement was far more protracted than it needed to be. In the presence of a prenuptial agreement, unless it was signed under duress or false information was given which did not allow for an informed decision, this divorce settlement and award may have gone in an entirely different direction. Now, the process of extended litigation is painful and expensive, no matter how much money is at stake.
The trouble with the legal system when it comes to divorces is that it is set up to be an adversarial process in which someone wins and someone loses and both pay a hefty fee to hash things out. It ostensibly addresses a wrong done against a spouse. Nowadays, despite prenuptial agreements and mediation, this mindset still prevails. Couples who are able to set aside their issues and work toward a common goal by attempting mediation often fare better when the process is concluded. However, it is far better to have a prenuptial agreement.
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