Sue Ann Hamm, now ex-wife of oil tycoon Harold Hamm, has been awarded about one billion dollars in a recent divorce settlement. And she is appealing the award “on grounds that it grossly undervalues the marital wealth she is entitled to.”
On first glance, her appeal sounds ridiculous. Let’s say that she lives another forty years. She would then be able to spend a whopping 25 million dollars a year for the rest of her life. That’s not including investment or even simple interest. That’s just if she did nothing but spend money. Which is crazy.
But it’s not really a matter of how much money she has been awarded. As astronomical as these figures are, the question is how much money she deserves. Harold Hamm is now worth around $17 billion, and Sue Ann was not merely a trophy wife.
She worked as an executive in the legal department of Continental Resources, the oil company that Harold Hamm started, having worked in the oil industry since her teenage years, and she apparently helped grow Continental Resources:
Oklahoma’s divorce law calls for “equitable distribution”, meaning the court decides what’s fair. They’ll take into account the couple’s 25 years of marriage, two children and Sue Ann’s years as an executive at Continental where, as Reuters notes, she created oil and gas marketing units among other key roles.
But here’s where things get really interesting. Apparently, according to Oklahoma divorce law, a divorcing spouse deserves an even split of resources, should either spouse be primarily responsible for the growth of family wealth. In other words, if Harold Hamm is responsible for the family’s wealth growth, Sue Ann is entitled to more, regardless of her personal contributions to the family’s wealth.
Because of this fact, some of the language surrounding this divorce case is quite odd:
During the trial, [Harold Hamm’s] lawyers contended that passive factors and the “teamwork” of others at Continental accounted for most of the company’s dazzling growth during the marriage.
“We believe that Harold should be given more credit for Continental’s success,” Sue Ann Hamm’s lawyers said.
Hilarious. A larger reward in this case is actually not based on Sue Ann’s contributions, but on Harold’s. It is odd to see a divorcing wife so dedicated to the praise of her husband’s hard work and success. It is perhaps even more odd to see such a successful self-made man as Harold Hamm arguing in court that his enormous wealth doesn’t have much to do with his own effort. Strange, indeed.