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Oil tycoon's high asset divorce could cost him billions

Oil billionaire Harold Hamm has an estimated net worth of $11.3 billion. He is ranked number 35 on the Forbes 400, the business magazine's list of the 400 wealthiest Americans. The Oklahoma mogul may be about to move down in the rankings, though. His second wife filed for divorce last year after 25 years of marriage.

Hamm is a pioneer in the development of the Bakken Shale, the oil-and-gas rich geological formation that underlies much of Montana and North Dakota. The division of the couple's business assets is likely to be a closely watched proceeding. Oklahoma, like Colorado, is an equitable distribution state, meaning that unless there is a valid prenuptial agreement, the couple's assets will not necessarily be split 50/50. Instead the judge will make a division that is fair and just for both parties. Hamm's soon-to-be ex-wife seems unlikely to settle for less than what she's entitled to: she is both a lawyer and an economist.

As is the case in many high-asset divorces, there are financial considerations at stake here that go beyond the asset division itself. For one thing, Hamm may have to fight to maintain control of his company. If his wife ends up getting even close to half the assets, Hamm's 68 percent stake in his company could be reduced to half that amount - meaning that he would no longer be a majority shareholder of the company he founded 46 years ago.

Also of concern to Hamm and other shareholders of the company is the effect that protracted divorce proceedings could have on the company's stock. Investors don't like uncertainty, and the longer the proceedings drag on the more damage will be done to the stock price. This is certainly an incentive for Hamm to try for an early settlement, even if he has to pay more to get it.

Source: Forbes, "Oil Billionaire Harold Hamm's Divorce Could Be World's Most Expensive At Over $5 Billion," Clare O'Connor, March 23, 2013

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