Tuesday, August 16

Oklahoma Oil Billionaire’s Divorce Trial Begins

The divorce trial of Harold Hamm, the billionaire CEO of one of the most profitable oil drillers in the United States, begins Monday, August 4, 2014 in Oklahoma City. The trial is expected to focus on whether or not Hamm worked to earn the $19 billion he gained over the course of his 26-year marriage, or whether it was the result of pure luck. This question will help determine the settlement the court awards to Hamm’s ex-wife, Sue Ann, which has the potential to be one of the largest divorce judgments ever.

Hamm is the founder of Continental Resources, a profitable oil drilling company which operates out of the Bakken Shale formation in the Northwestern part of the United States. While Oklahoma County judge Howard Haralson has already ruled that Hamm’s assets from before his 1988 marriage to Sue Ann are undeniably his property, the money he has gained since then is subject to the settlement. However, the decision will depend on the value he places on Hamm’s work during the marriage. Divorce law specialists have therefore predicted that Sue Ann’s arguments will paint her ex-husband as a hardworking and astute businessman, while Hamm will argue that his success was due to fortunate circumstances outside of his control, such as the rising cost of oil.

This method of decision stems from several details of Oklahoma Family Law, such as the definition of “marital wealth”, as well as Continental Resource’s dramatic successes during the couple’s marriage, which grew from $16 million in 1987 to a staggering $28 billion today. Because the Hamms did not sign a prenuptial agreement, any growth in their net worth resulting from work efforts by either spouse is considered marital wealth. This means that it could be subject to an “equitable” division, meaning Sue Ann could receive exactly half of her ex-husband’s estate. This in turn might force Hamm to liquidate some of his shares.

“When working with an experienced divorce team remember that knowledge is power. You must consider these top 9 questions,” says Robert Bellinger of Robert Bellinger Attorney at Law. “One, is the lawyer listening when you are speaking? Two, does the lawyer treat you with compassion and empathy? Three, is the lawyer able to provide you with a plan of action? Four, does the lawyer provide you with relevant information that is easy to understand? Five, is the lawyer willing to educate you and answer your questions? Six, will the lawyer handle your case personally or will it be delegated to someone else? Seven, is the lawyer assertive without being arrogant? Eight, is the lawyer being honest and realistic with you or is he or she promising that you will get everything you want? And nine, does the lawyer make your children’s best interests the number one priority?”

Since filing for divorce in 2012, Sue Ann’s legal team has reportedly received more than 1 million documents of discovery evidence from Hamm and Continental Resources. While most of the filings are sealed, her lawyers have deposed at least 70 witnesses, including former and current Continental employees, and a variety of news articles describing Hamm’s successes over the years. Filings indicate that both legal teams could introduce thousands of exhibits over the course of the case, including documents that are over 10,000 pages long. The media pieces on Hamm, which likely include several books which describe his successes, including his role in the discovery and development of one of America’s largest oil finds in years, could be particularly damning. Accordingly, Continental Resources has removed some of their more positive descriptions of Hamm from their company literature.

The trial is scheduled to run for nine weeks. Meanwhile, Continental Resources is continuing on a streak of financial prosperity: since their stock was introduced on the New York Stock Exchange, Continental shares are up by more than 1,000%. Moreover, the company is continuing to benefit from rising global oil prices. While it is currently impossible to predict whose take on Hamm’s career will succeed, one thing is certain: Harold and Sue Ann Hamm will both remain extremely wealthy.

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