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What does an oil billionaire stand to lose in a divorce?

The majority of Alaska residents may assume they have nothing in common with a billionaire oil baron from Oklahoma, but in at least one regard, some may be able to learn something from a shared experience. Harold Hamm, the founder of CEO of Continental Resources, has been in the news lately due to his divorce. He and his wife, Sue Ann, have been involved in an all-too-public battle over asset division. 

The question that many people have been asking may be obvious: Just how much of her husband's tremendous riches does Sue Ann Hamm stand to gain? The answer depends on the same elements of family law that affect divorcing couples in Alaska and across the nation. The division of any couple's assets and property depends on where they live and whether they signed a prenuptial agreement. 

If the Hamms did sign a prenuptial agreement, they were able to keep it more private than the other details of their divorce. Because Sue Ann is his second wife, it would have been wise of Harold to insist on a prenuptial agreement that would protect him from losing much of his fortune -- currently estimated to be around $11 billion.

But if the couple didn't sign a prenup, their asset division would be dictated by the rules of their home state of Oklahoma, which is an equitable distribution state. This means that a judge decides what an equitable and fair distribution of the couple's marital property would be. Factors taken into consideration might include the length of the couple's marriage and how much each contributed financially. Since Sue Ann worked for Continental Resources, she stands to gain a large portion of the company's profits, which rose exponentially just as the marriage reportedly turned rocky. By some reports she moved out of the family home in 2003; in 2004, Continental Resources' earnings skyrocketed due to oil production in North Dakota. 

Like Oklahoma, Alaska is an equitable division state.  This does not necessarily mean, however, that a couple's property will be divided between them evenly. As such, wealthy Alaska couples who are about to marry may want to consider a prenuptial agreement to avoid a predicament similar to what Harold Hamm is facing.

Source:, "Potential riches await oil and gas explorers," Tim Hunter, Sept. 1, 2013; Reuters, "Exclusive: Looming divorce could threaten oil baron's empire," Brian Grow and Joshua Schneyer, March 21, 2013

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