Huge settlement at stake in Harold and Sue Ann Hamm divorce

Not every divorcing businessperson in New York has as much money at stake as oil billionaire Harold Hamm, but high net worth spouses in Manhattan often have concerns similar to Hamm's and those of his wife, Sue Ann. Harold, whose fortune is said to be worth $11.3 billion, controls 68 percent of Continental Resources, which is growing faster than any other oil company in the U.S.

Sue Ann, who has held executive positions at Continental, could, unless a prenuptial agreement determines otherwise, receive an immense divorce settlement, including significant control of Continental. In particular, a court could find that Sue Ann played a major role in Harold's business success, thus entitling her to a goodly share of his fortune.

The repercussions of the divorce go beyond the spouses' contentions. Shares in Continental have dropped since the announcement of the divorce, calling to mind a similar reaction when media mogul Rupert Murdoch divorced his former wife in 1999.

Like New York, Oklahoma, where the divorce is unfolding, deals with marital property by equitable distribution. Absent a prenuptial agreement that specifies otherwise, an equitable distribution means the court will assess how much each spouse contributed in terms of income or shared business. In this particular case, it appears that Sue Ann contributed significantly.

Other documents indicate that the couple, though their marriage has been rocky for years, jointly contributed money to political campaigns and other causes. They also filed joint tax returns.

The case is bound to interest New Yorkers with high assets. Of course, the key to favorable outcomes in these cases is meticulous planning and solid legal counsel.

Source: Huffington Post, "Billionaire Oil Barron Harold Hamm's Divorce Could Result In Record-Breaking Payout," Brian Grow and Joshua Schneyer, March 21, 2013

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