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High-asset divorce case headed for appeals

When a Maryland couple goes through a divorce, the spouses involved expect that the final outcome will include a fair division of marital wealth. This is true across the board, no matter how much money is involved. When a divorce results in a property division outcome that is heavily skewed toward one party, the result is sometimes an appeal. Such is the case in the high profile divorce between billionaire Harold Hamm and his wife of 26 years, Sue Ann Hamm.

The couple enjoyed an estimated net wealth of more than $18 billion at the time of their separation. At the center of the divorce was a debate over the source of the wealth accumulated over the course of the marriage by Mr. Hamm's company, Continental Resources. According to Mr. Hamm, the company grew largely based on factors outside of his or anyone else's control, such as market improvements and the appreciation of assets. According to Mrs, Hamm, the increased value was due to efforts that she and her husband made within the company.

A court sided with Harold Hamm, and determined that Mrs. Hamm was entitled to just under $1 billion in cash and other assets. While this number seems impressive to most readers, it represents less than 10% of the total value of the couple's probable net worth. Viewed from that perspective, the division of marital wealth seems far from equitable.

Sue Ann Hamm is planning to appeal the decision, which means that many Maryland readers will continue to follow the story through to its conclusion. Should a judge determine that the efforts of either or both spouses played a larger role in the growth of Continental Resources, the amount awarded to Sue Ann Hamm could rise considerably. For those in Maryland who own a business and are preparing to divorce, this case demonstrates an issue that can arise when determining what portion of a company might be considered as marital wealth.

Source: The Washington Post, "When a $1 billion divorce award isn't enough", Michelle Singletary, Nov. 20, 2014

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