The Koblin Family Law Center

Can claim of 'dumb luck' stand up in energy mogul's divorce case?

Harold Hamm is called by some the richest energy mogul in the country. Apparent evidence of his prowess may be most clearly represented by the current value of the company he created, Continental Resources.

What was once a firm worth tens of millions of dollars is now, by one estimate, worth $17 billion. By market capitalization estimates, the company is said to be worth $29 billion. And right now, the question being addressed in an ongoing divorce trial is whether and how those assets should be subject to property division.  

The trial is taking place in a state other than California, but its possible implications are being watched carefully by many around the world. What makes the proceeding particularly interesting from a legal standpoint is the position each side is taking on the question of how the fortune was made.

For decades, Hamm has successfully projected himself as a self-made man who actively built his empire into what it is today. At his side through more than 30 years has been his wife. She's lawyer and a former executive of the company.

By those criteria it would seem clear that whatever wealth has been generated during their marriage was the result of both their efforts. And by the criteria of equitable distribution used in their home state of Oklahoma, the assets should be divided justly and reasonably.

According to reports about the case, however, Hamm is claiming in court that the $17 billion growth in his company's value was all the result of dumb luck, meaning it was realized through passive appreciation.

His wife, meanwhile, says the appreciation resulted from skill and acumen and that she is due her share under the tenets of equitable distribution.

The trial is currently in its second week and is due to conclude later this fall. Many legal analysts indicate Hamm's claim stands little chance of winning the day. Regardless of how things are resolved, observers expect it to wind up being the most expensive divorce in history.

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

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