As oil prices fall, billionaire appeals divorce settlement

Black and white business man with graphOklahoma oil billionaire Harold Hamm has quite the dilemma on his hands – how to keep up with his ex-wife’s financial demands as his net worth shrivels along with oil prices.

When an Oklahoma judge initially ordered Hamm to pay his ex-wife Sue Ann Arnall $1 billion in a divorce settlement earlier this year he walked away a happy man calling the deal “fair and equitable.” But as oil prices continue to plunge, Hamm has had a change of heart and has appealed the divorce ruling calling it unfair and inequitable.

His appeal followed his ex-wife’s own appeal claiming the award she received was too small. Arnall filed for divorce in 2012 after 26 years of marriage alleging Hamm was having an affair.

The judge awarded Arnall cash and based her share mostly on her husband’s company stock price, which at the time was around $116 a share. She was to receive a lump sum at the end of 2014 of around $322 million and the remaining money over time.

Hamm, meantime, was allowed to keep all of his company’s shares because, as the judge ruled, he had founded the company before the couple married. However, since then the stock’s value has taken a huge hit as oil prices plummet, and is now valued at around $38.00 a share.

In her petition filed last month, Arnall’s attorneys argued that not only should she have received significantly more money, but that the judge failed to explain how he calculated her “contribution to the marital estate in her roles as a wife, mother and public supporter of her prominent husband.”

While the distribution of assets may not appear to have been in Arnall’s favor, many states, including Florida, allow for unequal distribution of marital assets. Under Florida Statutes judges can consider a number of things including:

(a)The contribution to the marriage by each spouse, including contributions to the care and education of the children and services as homemaker.

(b)The economic circumstances of the parties.

(c)The duration of the marriage.

(d)Any interruption of personal careers or educational opportunities of either party.

(e)The contribution of one spouse to the personal career or educational opportunity of the other spouse.

(f)The desirability of retaining any asset, including an interest in a business, corporation, or professional practice, intact and free from any claim or interference by the other party.

(g)The contribution of each spouse to the acquisition, enhancement, and production of income or the improvement of, or the incurring of liabilities to, both the marital assets and the non-marital assets of the parties.

(h)The desirability of retaining the marital home as a residence for any dependent child of the marriage, or any other party, when it would be equitable to do so, it is in the best interest of the child or that party, and it is financially feasible for the parties to maintain the residence until the child is emancipated or until exclusive possession is otherwise terminated by a court of competent jurisdiction. In making this determination, the court shall first determine if it would be in the best interest of the dependent child to remain in the marital home; and, if not, whether other equities would be served by giving any other party exclusive use and possession of the marital home.

(i)The intentional dissipation, waste, depletion, or destruction of marital assets after the filing of the petition or within 2 years prior to the filing of the petition.

(j)Any other factors necessary to do equity and justice between the parties.

The original divorce trial, which ended in October, lasted 10 weeks and cost tens of millions of dollars. Both appeals will be heard by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Although most couples that divorce have nowhere near the kind of assets that this once power couple have, it still exemplifies the fact that financial circumstances can change, and with it the ability of one of the parties to pay.

Whether the courts will permit a modification, in this case, remains to be seen.

Lori Barkus is a Florida Supreme Court Certified Circuit Civil and Family Law mediator and guardian ad litem. She handles matters relating to divorce, custody, child support, paternity, collaborative divorce, adoption, parental rights, and family law and civil mediation.

Ms. Barkus is a cum laude graduate of the University of Miami School of Law. She is admitted to practice in Florida, Georgia and the District of Columbia, as well as in the Southern and Middle Districts of Florida and the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Appeals. She is also a member of Leading Women for Shared Parenting.

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