Exclusive: Oklahoma oilman appeals billion-dollar divorce judgment

Tue Dec 30, 2014 3:43pm EST
 
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By Joshua Schneyer

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - Last month, when oil magnate Harold Hamm was ordered to pay his ex-wife $1 billion in their divorce, he called the ruling "fair and equitable,” publicly thanked the judge and said he was happy to have the case behind him.

Now, with his estimated $19 billion personal fortune having fallen by half amid a rout in oil prices, the chief executive of Continental Resources has changed his mind.

Hamm has appealed the divorce ruling, which he now considers “erroneous and inequitable,” according to filings in Oklahoma County Court.

Hamm’s appeal hasn't been previously reported. The appeal, and an earlier one by ex-wife Sue Ann Arnall, will be heard by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Arnall, a former Continental executive, has claimed the ruling wrongly allowed the oilman to keep more than 90 percent of the wealth the couple built together. (Arnall resumed using her birth name after the divorce.)

The dueling appeals are the latest twist in one of the largest divorce cases in U.S. history. The contest pits America’s top owner of oil against an attorney ex-wife who is intent on showing that the Hamm fortune stemmed from hard work – both his and hers – during a 26-year marriage.

Hamm contends his 68 percent Continental stake, which he owned before meeting Arnall, surged in value during the marriage due to “passive” or market factors, like rising oil prices. The distinction is crucial, since Oklahoma law says only marital wealth stemming from active efforts or skills of either spouse should be split in a divorce. In essence, the most successful oilman in America is arguing that he was lucky.

“The vast majority of the enhanced value of the CLR (Continental) stock was due to market forces and contributions of third parties,” Hamm said in an appeal filing.

The appeals risk dragging Hamm, and his oil company, deeper into a personal divorce battle that's already in its third year. The fight has featured costs in the tens of millions of dollars and a 10-week trial that ended last month. The case was conducted mostly behind closed doors, after the judge ruled that opening it would harm Continental.   Continued...

 
Harold Hamm, founder and CEO of Continental Resources, enters the courthouse for divorce proceedings with wife Sue Ann Hamm in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma  September 22, 2014. Picture taken September 22, 2014. REUTERS/Steve Sisney