In Wake of Sagging Oil Prices, Petroleum Baron Files Appeal in Divorce Case

Law Firm Newswire



Fairfax, VA (Law Firm Newswire) January 23, 2015 – Multi-billionaire Harold Hamm is making the case that passive factors led to the acquisition of wealth during his former marriage — and that his ex-wife is therefore entitled to less of the oil fortune than originally determined.

In November, one of the largest divorce cases in U.S. history seemingly concluded when an Oklahoma court ordered oil kingpin Harold Hamm to pay his ex-wife nearly $1 billion. At the time, Hamm, who was estimated to have a personal fortune of $19 billion, called the ruling “fair and equitable” and declared himself happy to have the case behind him. 

Hamm, however, has changed his mind and filed an appeal, now calling the divorce ruling “erroneous and inequitable.”

Hamm’s legal about-face comes on the heels of sharply falling oil prices that have reduced his personal fortune to half its former size. And the multi-billionaire has made the tumbling price of crude oil the center of his rationale for filing the appeal, arguing that his 68 percent stake in Continental Resources, which he owned prior to his 26-year marriage to Sue Ann Arnall, skyrocketed in value during the marriage as a result of “passive” or market factors.

“Making a vast fortune drilling for oil may or may not involve passive factors such as chance,” commented Lisa McDevitt, a prominent Fairfax, Virginia, attorney who specializes in family law. “The most successful oilman in the United States — Continental is the top driller in North Dakota’s petroleum boom — is essentially making the case that striking it rich in the Bakken oil fields was due to sheer luck.”

Proving the point that Hamm’s stake in Continental has risen and fallen in value due to passive or market factors will be pivotal in his appeal. According to Oklahoma law, only marital wealth that is accumulated as a result of active efforts or skills of either spouse can be divided in a divorce.

Hamm’s December 16 appeal actually follows one that Arnall has already filed, which asserts that the divorce ruling wrongly allowed Hamm to retain more than 90 percent of the wealth the couple amassed together. Arnall, who was an attorney for Continental in the 1980s and 1990s, claims that she was involved in a series of successful lawsuits against competitors that resulted in millions of dollars in profits, which were subsequently reinvested in drilling for oil.

Both appeals will be heard by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

“Hamm’s request to consider post-divorce evidence involving market price swings is rather unorthodox,” McDevitt said. “But with ultra-high stakes involved, this is far from your garden-variety divorce case, and there is an incentive to find creative legal strategies.”

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