Opinion

Wedlock deadlock

JINOY JOSE P | Updated on August 27, 2014 Published on August 27, 2014

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Sounds like a soap opera...

Well, this one can beat anything in that genre. I’m talking about a divorce suit which can be called the mother of all such legal tangles — and the whole drama surrounding it.

Give me the cast and characters

The man in question is 68-year-old Harold Hamm, a billionaire oil mogul. He owns 68 per cent of the US-based oil extraction giant Continental Resources, which is valued at about $28 billion. That puts Hamm’s estimated worth at about $18 billion. Now, the suing wife is, ironically, called Sue Ann.

She was his company’s attorney when Hamm married her in 1988. Now 58, Sue Ann wants to untie the 26-year-old knot and is seeking her share of his wealth.

Wow, that’d be quite a pile!

You bet. Even if she gets $3 billion, which is the minimum she’s expected to win, she would join the elite club of America’s 20 Richest Women, vaulting past Oprah Winfrey, who has a net worth of $2.9 billion as on June 2014, and many others.

And if she succeeds in winning half the $18 billion money, that’d be a world record. The record for the biggest divorce settlement is now held by Russian businessman Dmitry Rybolovlev and wife Elena. Earlier this year, they settled at $4.5 billion.

Will Hamm let himself get hammered?

Exactly. His lawyers are trying to use every possible loophole in the law. And there’s a further interesting development. Hamm’s lawyers are claiming that most of his wealth is not the result of hard work and zeal, which he was famed for, but luck!

Luck? How’s that?

The idea is to exploit some clauses in the equitable distribution laws in Oklahoma. Under these provisions, if a man earns his wealth thanks to forces beyond his means or control, he does not have to share the marital asset equitably. Instead, if it was his handwork that helped him amass the riches, it should be subject to “equitable division”. In legal terms, these are called “active” and “passive” appreciation of marital assets.

Will this argument see him through?

The jury is out. But his wife’s lawyers are using every available literature to prove it was Hamm’s skills and hard work that helped him build the oil empire. They quote from old company reports, videos and other media material for public relations that eulogise the role the blue-eyed oilman played in the smashing success of the company. Hamm’s legal armada is busy liquidating such references from the company’s official literature, while adding new chunks that say the old man has been plain lucky! Since Ann filed her case in 2012, Continental has given her lawyers more than one million pages of discovery evidence, trying to disprove the ‘sweat factor’.

HBO must be watching this closely…

Perhaps they should. But observing the developments with beating hearts are the investors in Continental Resources.

The company’s share prices rose a whopping 1000 per cent since it went public in May 2007, according to a Reuters report, when the share of other oil drilling companies saw only a 70 per cent spike.

But it can get royally pounded at the markets if this takes a bad turn. The thing is, the same day the divorce battle was leaked to the public last year, Continental’s shares fell 3 per cent after months of gains. Now, all eyes are on the outcome from the closed courtroom in Oklahoma City.

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Published on August 27, 2014
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