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Wife appeals Hamm divorce; $1 billion award is insufficient

A high net worth divorce in Georgia or anywhere else can set the stage for legal arguments, unresolved controversy, and several appeals. Although Harold Hamm's wife, Sue Ann Arnall,  originally said she would not accept a judge's award of $975 million from the oil tycoon, she went ahead and cashed Hamm's check for that amount. The payment represented the family law judge's order of property division in the couple's divorce case.

By taking the funds, some family law experts reason that she cannot succeed with the appeal that she insists she is pursuing. The parties were married for 26 years, and Ms. Arnall claims that she's entitled to a much larger percentage of the marital estate. That estate is estimated to have been worth about $18 billion during the two and a half decades of marriage.

Right now, the case is on appeal to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. It's unclear whether the cashing of the check will impact on the appeal, but that's likely to be an early issue for the Court. Despite Arnall's dispute over the amount of the lower court's award, it is reputed to be one of the largest in the country's history.

The trial court ruling also allowed the husband to retain his original 68 percent ownership of Continental Oil. An issue on appeal is therefore whether the court should have shielded the bulk of the marital estate from Arnall, who was reportedly active in assisting in the business. The lower court apparently ruled that Hamm was mostly responsible for building up the capital assets and therefore could keep most of it.

One twist to the case, however, is that  the recent substantial drop in oil prices has put a hit on the net value of Hamm's estate. Whether that will work to help one or the other party in the appeal remains to be seen. When a divorce battle concerns a huge accumulation of wealth, whether in Georgia or another jurisdiction, every step in the proceedings are potentially of decisive importance. Each important legal issue should be thoroughly researched, evaluated and argued at every reasonable opportunity.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Harold Hamm's Ex-Wife Vows To Appeal Divorce Case After Cashing $975 Million Check", Jan. 12, 2015

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