Will Billionaire oilman "wildcatter" Harold Hamm's divorce settlement set a world record?

They call him a wildcatter. And other things. One thing is for sure, billionaire Harold Hamm, majority shareholder in Continental Resources (an oil giant), and soon to be ex husband of Sue Ann Hamm, was not always rich. His is a rags to riches story as a matter of fact and you have to kind of root for him that he won’t lose his shirt in this divorce. This guy was born and raised in Oklahoma and was the last of about 13 kids. All the family, all 15 of them, lived in a one bedroom house. He literally built himself up from dire poverty to one of the wealthiest men in the world. Forbes writer Christopher Helman wrote this about  Hamm:

Hamm has come a long way. The youngest of 13 children, his parents picked cotton and raised the entire family in one-bedroom house in Oklahoma. His first job was a gas station attendant. He founded Harold Hamm Tank Truck Service in 1966; at the time, its sole asset was a Bobtail Ford truck used to service oil wells. more

Hamm’s divorce from long time wife Sue Ann Hamm is shaping up to be the stuff of divorce legend. The couple who married in 1988 apparently has been estranged for years. They had no prenup.  According to a Reuters article, Sue Ann had been a lawyer in the company. That is how they met. Harold, who is ten years her senior, had been married before and divorced his first wife in the eighties. At that time he was worth only $16 million dollars. Over the course of his 26 year marriage to Sue Ann his networth appreciated to roughly $28 billion USD. How much of that belongs to Sue Ann? That is the question. It is a matter of how much the court decides is “marital property.” From Reuters:

“Continental has dramatically increased in value during the marriage, so the critical issue is what caused that,” said Carolyn Thompson, an Oklahoma-based attorney and family law specialist. “In all likelihood, it’s a combination of work and market factors.”Since the couple didn’t sign a prenuptial agreement, any growth in their net worth deriving from work efforts by either spouse is considered marital wealth, subject to an “equitable” division under Oklahoma law, which could mean a 50-50 split. A judgment awarding Sue Ann billions of dollars from the estate might require Harold to liquidate shares.

There has been a lot of pretrial jockeying from both sides already. Indeed, Harold scored a huge win earlier in the year when a judge ruled that a lion share of his shares in Continental Resources – about 122 million – were his separate, premarital property. But that still leaves more than 4 million shares to divvy up.
Last week, the divorce trial commenced in Oklahoma County Court. The issues are rather complex as expressed by Carolyn Thompson who was interviewed by Reuters. It seems to involve an evaluation by the court – based on the testimonies of all the witnesses of course – of the actual role Hamm played in turning the company he formed, Continental Resources, into the multi billion dollar outfit it is today. The pivotal questions are, “was he just Lucky that market forces were what they were?” or “Was it his management, wildcatting and strategic skills that resulted in Continental’s success?” Reuters weighs in on the issue:

 Monday marks the start of Hamm’s divorce trial in Oklahoma County Court, which may result in the largest-ever divorce judgment. Scheduled to run nine weeks, the trial will revolve around precisely how Hamm, who owns 68 percent of the company’s shares, amassed a $19 billion fortune during his 26-year marriage to his wife, Sue Ann. Continental’s past descriptions of Hamm could become a point of contention, as could articles and books that chronicle the Oklahoman’s deft wildcatting and the role he played in the discovery and development of America’s largest oil find in decades. Continental holds a leading land position in the Bakken field. more

Everybody is waiting with baited breath to see if he will be slapped with the biggest divorce settlement by the Oklahoma courts. But the thing is, he managed to get the judge to seal the divorce so the public really doesn’t get to follow the case in painstaking details. Only lucky media types like Forbes Magazine reporters get exclusive scoops so divorce Saloon will have to make do with second and third hand information (unless one of the parties or their lawyers wants to help give us a heads up? In which case contact us!).
Well, so whose side are we on? Are we team Harold or Team Sue Ann? This is a tough one. You can’t almost help rooting for Harold. His story of how he came from nothing to this is just so fascinating. On the other hand, we want the courts to do what is fair to both sides in this case and since the case is sealed, we don’t have all the information to make a fair call. So we are going to decline to team up at this point. But we are, like everyone else, waiting with baited breath to hear what happens. And we wish both Harold and Sue Ann the very best.