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Why A $1 Billion Divorce Settlement Is A Victory

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What would you think about a court order to pay your ex-wife a billion dollars?
Would the words ‘Worst Day Ever’ fit the bill? For oil billionaire Harold Hamm, it might be the best news he has heard all year. He’s keeping 90% of his assets!

The CEO of Continental Resources pays a billion dollars and gets to keep over 90% of his assets. How did he score such a victory?

A Rocky Start
Things didn’t look so good for Mr. Hamm when the divorce was filed. The math for the Hamm divorce seemed simple. Harold and Sue Ann Hamm were married for 26 years. They had no prenuptial agreement and at the time of the divorce filing their net worth was estimated at $18 billion. Legal reporters and commentators were understandably shocked when the court ruled Mrs. Hamm was only entitled to $1 billion in cash and assets. How did a divorce that looked poised to be worth $9 billion end up with the wife receiving less than 6% of the estate? Mr. Hamm’s lawyers did their job right.

How Mrs. Hamm Got Shut Out
Oklahoma divorce law has a unique quantifier when determining how assets are divided in a divorce. The value of an asset must have resulted from the efforts or skills of either spouse during the marriage in order for it to be considered community property and divided between the spouses.

How does this relate to the Hamm’s shale oil fortune? Mr. Hamm’s attorneys argued that the majority of the Hamm’s wealth was based on the current price of oil. Since the market price for a barrel of oil is completely outside the control of Mr. Hamm and cannot be influenced through his skill or effort, the full $18 billion cannot be considered assets to divide in the divorce. Only the amount directly attributed to his efforts could be divided. Mr. Hamm’s legal team then successfully argued that amount was significantly less than the full value of the estate. The judge agreed and awarded Mrs. Hamm only $1 billion.

Good Lawyers Make a Difference
While this divorce case has generated a great deal of publicity over the staggering amounts of money involved, it is also a story about hard work and good lawyering. The legal team representing Mr. Hamm displayed a critical understanding of Oklahoma divorce law. They used the specifics and minutia of the law to powerfully advocate for their client. The team delivered a result that surprised many onlookers and defied initial impressions of the case. This is a brilliant reminder that the best divorce attorneys deliver the best results.

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