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Billionaires Increased Share Value May Be Shared In Divorce

New Jersey couples who have significant assets may be interested in the legal rulings regarding the divorce of one oil billionaire. The rulings categorize some assets as pre-marital, but questions still remain pending a further trial set to begin soon.

Billionaire Harold Hamm married his wife Sue Ann in 1988. Hamm is a majority shareholder in Continental Resources, an oil company with billions of dollars in sales in 2013. Hamm’s stake in the company, 125 million shares, is a large part of his $17.5 billion net worth, placing him as the world’s 44th richest person. In 2012, the couple filed for divorce.

A recent ruling on the question of whether Hamm’s shares were marital property or not was made in February. The ruling stated that the shares that he owned prior to the marriage were not the property of the marriage. However, the issue of what to do with the enhancement of the stock’s value during the marriage is still open. This appreciation is valued at billions of dollars. Since Continental’s initial public offering in 2007, the value of Hamm’s shares has increased by $13.2 billion. If the court finds that it was marital effort that caused the value of the shares to grow, then that increase in value could be divisible between the spouses. However, if it was market conditions that caused the increase, then the court will not divide that value.

A high net worth divorce like this requires complex asset division and difficult asset valuation. An attorney who has experience in these matters may be helpful in determining the best course of action when attempting to protect these personal and business assets. This could be accomplished by arguing successfully at trial or by negotiating a fair agreement that both parties can live with.

Source: Bloomberg, “Continental Resources Founder’s Stake at Risk in Divorce“, Brendan Coffey, March 19, 2014