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Billions of dollars at stake in oil baron's divorce trial

When it comes to divorces involving high-profile athletes or A-list movie stars, most of us aren't too surprised to hear about judgments in the millions of dollars being handed down. However, most of us will pause when we hear about divorce judgments that reach well into the billions of dollars.

Such was the case earlier this spring when the wife of Dmitry Rybolovlev, the Russian fertilizer magnate, was awarded the largest divorce judgment in history at $4.5 billion.

As unbelievable as this amount may seem, experts say it could soon be eclipsed to a considerable degree by the impending outcome of a divorce trial involving a well-known U.S. oil tycoon and his wife of 26 years. 

The divorce in question involves 68-year-old Harold Hamm and his 58-year-old wife.

For those unfamiliar with Hamm, he is the founder and chair of Continental Resources, an oil company that proved instrumental in introducing fracking as viable method of petroleum extraction. Identified by Time magazine as one of the most influential people of 2012 and number 39 on Forbes' list of the richest people in the world, Hamm's fortune -- the majority of which was amassed during his marriage -- is estimated to be just over $20 billion.

Very little is currently known about the divorce proceedings involving Hamm and wife, which unfolded in an Oklahoma City courtroom last week. That's because the presiding judge ordered both the records and the legal proceedings be closed to the public out of concern that otherwise sensitive information concerning Continental Resources, a major player in the North Dakota oil fields, could possibly be released.

According to legal experts, the ultimate judgment reached in the Hamm's divorce trial will likely turn on two very important issues:

  • How much Mrs. Hamm contributed to Continental's growth both as a former executive for the oil company and as Hamm's partner.
  • The date used for the separation of assets, as the later the date, the less likely Hamm will retain a larger share of his massive fortune.    

Despite the relative dearth of information coming out of the courtroom, legal experts are theorizing that the divorce judgment handed down will be the largest in history, perhaps reaching as high as $8 billion.

While the overwhelming majority of divorces here in Minnesota won't involve such vast fortunes, cases like these do serve to highlight the inherent value of prenuptial agreements (which the Hamm marriage was lacking), and how property division is always an inherently complex issue no matter the sums involved.

Source: CNN Money, "Oil tycoon could face record divorce judgment," Steve Hargreaves, Aug. 12, 2014

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