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$1B judgment not enough, says former spouse in oil tycoon divorce

Over the last few months, our blog has been closely following the divorce trial of 68-year-old oil magnate Harold Hamm and his 58-year-old wife of 26 years, Sue Ann Hamm.

To recap, Hamm is the founder and CEO of Continental Resources, an oil extraction company that is 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.

In recent developments, the presiding judge in the couple's nine-week divorce trial, which was heard in an Oklahoma court, handed down a decision in the matter last week, awarding Sue Ann Hamm $995 million plus a home in Oklahoma and a ranch in California both estimated to be worth several million dollars.

Interestingly, even though this divorce judgment is one of the largest in U.S. history, attorneys representing Sue Ann Hamm have indicated that it was "not equitable" and will be challenging it on appeal.

Sue Ann Hamm's dissatisfaction with the judgment stems from the judge's interpretation of Oklahoma's property division laws, which expressly declare that wealth accumulated during the course of a marriage that can be attributed to the efforts of either spouse is considered marital property subject to division in a divorce. 

While Sue Ann Hamm's attorneys argued that the estimated $18 billion spike in the value of her husband's shares of Continental during the course of the marriage was rightly considered marital property under state law, the judge ruled otherwise.

Specifically, he held that while $1.4 billion of the growth in Continental could rightly be considered as "marital capital," the remainder of the stock fortune was rightly considered Harold Hamm's "separate property" not subject to division.

"Sue Ann is disappointed in the outcome of this case. She dedicated 25 years as Harold's faithful partner in family and business,'' said her attorney. "She plans to appeal the court's decision."

State law dictates that the appeal could be heard by either the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals or the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Here, either court could 1) affirm the judgment of the lower court, 2) modify the divorce judgment, or 3) order the case to be re-tried. Regardless of the outcome, legal experts indicate the appeal would likely take a minimum of 18 months and could stretch on for years.

We will continue to monitor the major developments in this fascinating case. In the meantime, if you have questions or concerns about complex property division matters -- or prenuptial agreements -- consider speaking with an experienced legal professional here in Minnesota as soon as possible.

Sources: CNBC, "Ex-wife of Harold Hamm to appeal $1 billion divorce award," Nov. 13, 2014; Yahoo! News, "Divorce trial of Continental CEO ends, with billions at stake," Joshua Schneyer, Oct. 9, 2014

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