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Billionaire's fortune on the rocks in massive high asset divorce

In what could be the costliest divorce in the American history books, billionaire Harold Hamm and his soon-to-be ex-wife are hashing out their differences in an oil country courtroom. Although one might think that one of the nation's richest divorces would happen in New York, this relationship is unexpectedly terminating in Oklahoma. The high asset divorce trial is in its second week, with one of the globe's biggest personal fortunes up for grabs.

The man in this case owns a company that is estimated at $17 billion in value by his wife's legal team. One confounding question has arisen throughout this entire divorce proceeding: Did the company's value come from sheer luck, or did the man play a role in improving his venture's chances of success? The woman is claiming that her husband is almost solely responsible for the company's success -- meaning that she would be entitled to a larger share of the estate. The man, meanwhile, argues that his fortune is essentially the result of "dumb luck."

These questions have arisen because Hamm owned his company decades before he ever met his wife. Equitable distribution law would dictate that the man would be required to hand over a percentage of his fortune, since he ostensibly built it through his own effort during at least a portion of the marriage. Hamm earned his financial juggernaut status by being the first industrialist to successfully profit from "fracking" technology.

Although this case is being called the "King Kong of divorce cases," many of the issues that have arisen during this trial also touch on other high asset divorce situations. Dividing property is difficult enough in a middle-class home -- but start talking about billions of dollars, and suddenly collaborative divorce methods become far less inviting. Courtroom litigation for asset division may be appropriate for more high asset couples, though each case is admittedly different.

Source: CNBC, "Priciest Divorce Ever? How Oilman Harold Hamm Could Lose $17 Billion" Tony Dokoupil, Aug. 24, 2014

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