The 17 Billion Dollar Divorce

An Oklahoma oil mogul, Harold Hamm, and his wife of 25 years are currently in their second week of divorce proceedings in Oklahoma City. At stake in this divorce is the 17 billion, (yes, you read it right, billion, not million) dollar fortune he has built up, which is one of the world’s largest personal fortunes. The main issue in the case is whether he became one of the world’s richest people because he was lucky, or because of his labor. You may not think so but the answer to this question is key in this divorce, and in today’s blog your Pennsylvania divorce lawyers explain why.

In divorce proceedings in equitable distribution states, which includes Pennsylvania, the family court needs to decide the appropriate way to divide the assets. So in a PA divorce, just like in this Oklahoma divorce, the court determines if an asset is martial or non-marital. Anything obtained during the marriage is marital and the court will distribute it. Anything that one party obtained prior to the marriage is considered non-marital and usually doesn’t get divided upon divorce. We say it usually doesn’t get divided, because normally a non-marital asset such as a car or jewelry won’t have a significant increase in value during the marriage. There are, however, cases in which a non-marital asset, like a business which one spouse started prior to the marriage, that increases significantly in value during the marriage and may be subject to equitable distribution during a divorce.

If the value that an asset had at the time of marriage may have significantly increased at the time of the divorce, which is the case in this Oklahoma divorce, and the reason for the increased value is crucial to dividing the assets. If the value increased because of the work of one of the spouses, active appreciation, the increased value is considered a marital asset and will be divided between the two. However, if the value increased because of things out of the control of any party, such as market forces, the increase is said to be due to passive appreciation, and the increased value won’t be distributed.

So in this divorce case how much Mr. Hamm’s soon to be ex-wife will obtain from a final judgment, half of his 17 billion dollar fortune or a smaller portion depends on whether or not Mr. Hamm was lucky. Mrs. Hamm’s legal team of course is arguing that he is a business genius and that the company was so successful because of his business savvy, so that she will be entitled to half the amount that the company has increased in value over the last 25 years. Mr. Hamm’s team on the other hand is trying to argue that he has been a very lucky in his business endeavors so his wife will only obtain a much smaller portion of his estate.

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