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Divorce of oil baron could involve record property division settlement

News reports indicate that Sue Ann Hamm has filed for divorce from her husband. The news often graces the financial pages as Harold Hamm is the chief executive of Continental Resources. The couple married in 1988 and they have two adult children together. But commentators say that the divorce proceedings may be contentious as Harold Hamm is an oil baron who was listed as one of the 50 richest Americans last year by Forbes.

The details of the divorce proceedings are not well known, as documents in the family law case are sealed, according to Reuters. While the case is not filed in New York, the divorce is being handled in an equitable property state. New York is also an equitable property state for the purposes of marital property division.

The Hamms have been married for almost 25 years. Ms. Hamm is a lawyer who previously worked with Continental Resources, although she reportedly is no longer with the company. Sources say that the divorce could result in a record marital property settlement. After nearly 25 years of marriage, Ms. Hamm's equitable claim (especially in light of her work with the company) could lead to a record settlement in excess of the $1.7 billion paid in the Rupert Murdoch divorce in 1999.

A professor emeritus of family law at the University of Arizona says that she has never seen a high-asset divorce this big before, according to Reuters. Issues concerning the contributions of each spouse are expected to be involved. Often, under equitable distribution of property in a divorce proceeding, and where potential company control may be at issue, a spouse may often receive the value of shares in the business. However the professor emeritus of family law told Reuters that this case could be interesting based upon Ms. Hamm's direct contribution to the success of the company.

A second major issue that commentators are pointing to in the divorce proceeding involves prior petitions for divorce. Harold Hamm filed for divorce in 1998, but that case was withdrawn and the records were ordered destroyed this year. But Ms. Hamm filed for divorce in 2005, according to Reuters.

Mr. Hamm says that although that case was ultimately dropped, the couple separated at that time. Each has led a separate life since the 2005 divorce petition was filed, according to Harold Hamm, which commentators say could be a factor in arriving at an equitable property division. Sue Ann Hamm reportedly disputes that the couple remained separated after the 2005 case was filed.

Source: Reuters via Financial Post, "Looming divorce could threaten U.S. oil baron's empire," Brian Grow and Joshua Schneyer, March 22, 2013

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