Falling oil prices could affect $1 billion divorce settlement

Oklahoma oil billionaire Harold Hamm’s victory against his ex-wife in an alimony fight is shrinking with his own net worth.

While his ex-wife, Sue Ann Arnall, appeals her almost $1 billion award as being too small, Hamm, 69, argues it’s too much because his wealth has shrunk with the price of oil and the stock of the company he founded, Continental Resources.

Since the divorce trial ended Nov. 10, oil reached a five-year low and Continental dropped 30 percent.

With his net worth, as measured by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, reduced by a third to $10.6 billion, Hamm said Arnall will get a larger share of their combined wealth than intended by the judge.

By his math, Arnall is getting a deal of historic proportions. Worse still, Hamm’s lawyers say, she wants the court to make him fork over a lump sum payment due Wednesday under the divorce decree, while she continues to fight for more money.

Arnall “has apparently not kept up with the facts regarding the falling price of oil and its impact” on Hamm’s Continental shares, his lawyers said in a Dec. 22 state court filing in Oklahoma City in his appeal of the divorce decree. “Never before in Oklahoma history has a litigant claimed to need almost $300 million just to get by while an appeal is pending.”

Hamm claims the value of his stake in Continental, the company credited with pioneering shale drilling in the Bakken oil basin of North Dakota and Montana, has dropped to “just over $9.4 billion.” Arnall claims the oilman is still worth about $18 billion, taking all his holdings into account.

“Where the other half of the alleged $18 billion estate” might be lurking is “a mystery,” Hamm said in the filing. He said he “is going to have to borrow money in order to pay this judgment to petitioner; there is no reason she cannot borrow money to finance her appeal” of a judgment in her favor.

Two weeks ago, Hamm submitted to the court a chart that tracked the simultaneous decline in West Texas’ benchmark crude price and Continental shares, asking the judge to take official notice of the free fall.

“The dramatic drop in oil price post-trial and the corresponding drop in the Continental Resources stock price demonstrate the overriding impact of the oil price on the value of the stock,” according to the filing.

Hamm, under the original divorce decree, was to make an initial payment of about $322 million to Arnall by the end of December, with the balance due in $7 million monthly installments until the entire $972 million alimony award is paid.

Arnall offered to take just $266 million in initial funds instead, to cover “substantial” maintenance and upkeep expenses that she said have “deluged” her since the divorce. She has also appealed the underlying award, saying the quarter-century she spent at Hamm’s side entitled her to a greater share of the couple’s fortune.