Oil Tycoon, Harold Hamm, Ordered To Pay Wife $1 Billion in Equitable Distribution

By Richard Geller

Harold Hamm, an Oklahoma oil tycoon and the 24th richest man in the United States, has been ordered to pay his wife $1 billion as part of one of the largest divorce settlements in history.  However, the Judge subsequently ruled that Hamm's ex-wife, Sue Ann Hamm, is not entitled to alimony (known as 'maintenance' or 'spousal support' in New York), as she failed to "demonstrate need for support above and beyond what she is receiving as her share of the marital estate."  

The $1 billion settlement arises from the 'equitable distribution' of marital assets that are apportioned by the court upon divorce. The biggest challenge underlying this case was determining whether the Bakken formation (one million acres of landed in North Dakota, Montana and parts of Canada owned by Harold Hamm) was separate or marital property. Throughout the couple's marriage, the Bakken formation eventually became the source of Harold Hamm's tremendous fortune.  

To clarify - property acquired by either spouse during the marriage is marital property (notwithstanding certain exclusions) and is subject to equitable distribution upon dissolution of marriage (aka: upon 'judgment of divorce'). Regardless of how title to the property in question is held; if it is marital property, it will be divided as such in divorce.

The main issue at the heart of the divorce was whether Mr. Hamm's fortune emanated from skill and expertise or a product of nothing but pure luck.  Under Oklahoma law, the answer can turn the entire case on its head.  

"The money a spouse earns while married can be part of a divorce settlement if it is made through skill. If, on the other hand, the increase is attributable to '“changing economic conditions, or circumstances beyond the parties’ control,”' as the state’s Supreme Court put it in a 1995 case, then that money is off the table.

Unfortunately for Mr. Hamm, Oklahoma County Judge Haralson didn't find the 'luck' argument convincing.  Judge Haralson held that Mr. Hamm's skills, efforts, expertise, and leadership resulted in an "increase in value" for Continental Resources, the company in which Mr. Hamm is chief executive and majority shareholder.  

The judgment orders Mr. Hamm to make about $320 million in payments (1/3 of the settlement) to his now former wife before the end of 2014.  The remainder must be paid in roughly $7 million/month installments thereafter. Although there is no concern that Mr. Hamm will fail to make the ordered payments,  the Court has nevertheless placed a lien on 20 million shares of Continental Resources stock (though Mr. Hamm comfortably owns more than 6 times that number of shares). 

Although much of the divorce matter has been confidential and filed under seal, a 2013 filing by Ms. Hamm makes allegations of longstanding marital infidelity.  To bolster her claims, Ms. Hamm states that she documented the extramarital affairs via audio and videotape. In a clever response, Mr. Hamm's lawyers used those tapes to substantiate claims that the couple had not lived together as husband and wife for a very long time. 

Contact Geller Law PLLC today for your free consultation on Divorce, Equitable Distribution, Maintenance.