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Billions of dollars on the line as divorce trial of oil tycoon ends

A divorce trial described by one court filing as "matrimonial litigation of unprecedented scope and complexity" that has been closely monitored by legal experts for nine weeks officially came to a close last Thursday.

Here, the divorce trial involved 68-year-old oil magnate Harold Hamm and his 58-year-old wife of 26 years, Sue Ann Hamm.

Harold Hamm is the founder of Continental Resources, an oil extraction company that has emerged as one of the leading drillers in North Dakota and Montana's Bakken oilfields. His fortune -- the majority of which consists of his 68 percent in Continental -- is estimated to be roughly $20 billion.

While both the record and hearings in the nine-week trial were sealed over the presiding judge's concerns that Continental could be destroyed by the release of confidential business information, insiders have indicated that the majority of the arguments focused on Oklahoma's property division law. 

This law states that accumulation of wealth during a marriage stemming from the work efforts of either spouse (i.e., active factors) is considered marital property subject to division in a divorce.  

To that end, Sue Ann Hamm's attorneys argued that court should divide upwards of $17 billion in wealth that has been generated by her husband's shares of Continental during the course of the marriage. Harold Hamm's attorneys, however, argued that this accumulation of wealth generated by the shares was only due to passive factors or factors beyond his control (i.e., rising oil prices, etc.) and therefore not subject to division under state law.

It will certainly be fascinating to see what the judge in this complex case ultimately decides. If he agrees with Sue Ann Hamm's arguments, it could mean the largest divorce judgment in U.S. history and a possible erosion of Harold Hamm's control at Continental, as he would be forced to liquidate a sizeable amount of his controlling shares.

Stay tuned for updates ...

As we stated earlier about this case, it highlights just how complex property division matters can prove to be -- regardless of the assets involved -- and just how valuable a prenuptial agreement can be regardless of whether you live in Oklahoma or Minnesota.

Sources: Yahoo! News, "Divorce trial of Continental CEO ends, with billions at stake," Joshua Schneyer, Oct. 9, 2014; Reuters, "Reuters seeks to open billionaire oilman's Oklahoma divorce trial," David Bailey, Oct. 9, 2014

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