The Billion Dollar Divorce

Hamm Divorce CheckHarold Hamm and his ex-wife Sue Ann Arnall have just joined the unenviable ranks of the most expensive divorce settlements in U.S. history, after an Oklahoma court ordered Hamm to pay Arnall nearly a billion dollars as part of a divorce settlement following their 26-year marriage.

Hamm, a self-made Oklahoma oil magnate, is the majority shareholder and CEO of Continental Resources. Forbes credited Hamm with “fueling America’s recovery” and estimated his net worth at more than $18 billion dollars, making him the 24th richest man in the country. Hamm was also named as energy advisor for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.

The Marriage

In 1988, Harold Hamm married his second wife Sue Ann Arnall, a woman a decade his junior. Hamm’s first marriage to wife Judith Ann ended over allegations that he was having an affair with Sue Ann.

At the time, Arnall was a lawyer at Continental and Hamm was just beginning to snap up roughly one million acres of land leases in North Dakota, Montana and parts of Canada in what is known as the Bakken formation. The Bakken turned out to be one of the richest underground oil reserves in the United States.

The Divorce

The secretive nine-week divorce trial focused largely on what exactly led Harold Hamm to discover the Bakken, thereby creating his enormous fortune. Was it shrewd skill and speculative expertise or just dumb luck as Hamm claimed?

Under Oklahoma law, investment growth during marriage can be part of a divorce settlement if made through “active forces” such as skill, work ethic or expertise. If, on the other hand, the growth is attributable to “passive forces”, such as changing economic conditions or circumstances beyond the parties’ control, then it is considered separate property.

Harold and Sue Ann Hamm JEMAL COUNTESS/GETTY

Harold and Sue Ann Hamm

In November 2014, the Oklahoma court found that Hamm’s skills, efforts and leadership, touted for years in Continental’s SEC filings, were responsible for the couples’ growth in marital fortune. However, the court estimated the couples’ marital estate at only $2 billion, not the $18 billion touted in Forbes. Certain assets, such as Orbit Gas Storage, were valued at zero in the ruling. See a full copy of the memorandum order here.

The court awarded Arnall half of the marital estate, including a $17.4 million ranch in Carmel Valley, CA and an equalization payment of nearly $1 billion in cash.  However, Arnell plans to appeal the ruling, claiming the court considered only a fraction of the couples’ multi-billion dollar estate.

Hamm pledged nearly 20% of his Continental stock in order to quickly write a check that would stop interest from accruing during Arnall’s appeal. Arnall deposited the check in January 2015, but still plans to proceed with an appeal.

The Appeal

Hamm’s attorney claims that Arnall’s acceptance of the check ends her case, since she has “accepted the benefits of the ruling”. Arnall, however, argues that accepting the money on the table is the only intelligent thing to do while she awaits appeal.

Interviewed by People, Arnell said “The court’s rulings on Tuesday left me in a position where I would receive no distributions of the marital estate during the appeal, which could last numerous years, and would be required to ‘show need’ in order to obtain temporary support.”

She added, “I believe it is unfair that any woman’s property be controlled by a former husband. During our 26-year marriage, and during the nearly three years this case has been pending, Hamm has had complete control and full use of the assets we built together, while I have patiently waited for access. I was simply not willing to wait several more years while the appeal is pending.”

Lisa L. Fiance, Esq.

Lisa L. Fiance, Esq. is a California family law attorney, divorce mediator, and the owner of Epiphany ADR. The information contained in this article is intended as general information and does not constitute legal or tax advice.


California Guideline Child Support

California courts determine child support according to a complicated but standardized “guideline” formula found in Family Code § 4055.

Principles of Guideline Child Support

California guideline seeks to encourage fair and efficient settlements of conflicts between parents and seeks to minimize the need for litigation. In implementing the statewide uniform guideline, the Court must adhere to the following principles:

  • Guideline seeks to place the interests of children as the top priority.
  • Guideline child support is presumptively correct. Only under special circumstances should child support fall below the guideline However, the presumption is rebuttable in some rare cases.
  • Child support orders must ensure that children actually receive fair, timely, and sufficient support reflecting the high standard of living and child raising costs in California.

California Guideline Factors

California guideline child support considers several factors, including:

  • Custodial Timeshare: Custodial timeshare is the amount of time the child spends with each parent. Whether parents share joint custody or one parent has “sole” physical custody, there is typically some custodial timeshare percentage that applies based on visitation.
  • Annual gross income: Gross income includes income from ALL sources, including but not limited to: wages, salaries, bonuses, commissions, royalties, rents, dividends, pensions, interest, trust income, annuities, workers’ compensation, unemployment, disability, social security and spousal support from another marriage.
  • Earning capacity: If one parent is unemployed, the court MAY consider that parent’s earning capacity in lieu of actual income. The court does this in the best interest of the children, so that neither parent can voluntarily avoid employment. If earning capacity is imputed to the custodial parent, however, the supporting parent generally must contribute to childcare costs.
  • Tax Factors: Gross income is reduced by actual tax liability, as determined by the guideline calculation software. Tax liability is based on each parent’s tax filing status, number of exemptions and qualifying deductions, and may differ from the amount withheld from paycheck withholding.
  • Allowable child support deductions: Each parent is allowed deductions for state and federal income tax liability, FICA, mandatory union dues, mandatory retirement contributions, pre-tax health insurance premiums for the parent and child, any child support or spousal support already being paid, necessary job-related expenses, and certain California adjustments to income. Further deductions, known as “hardships”, may be available for extraordinary medical expenses or catastrophic losses.

Child Support Add-Ons

Certain other expenses are considered child support “add-ons”. Some expenses are mandatory child support add-ons, meaning that the court must include them in guideline child support if the expenses exist. These expenses include childcare costs related to employment or reasonably necessary job training and reasonable uninsured health care costs for the children. Other child support add-ons are at the court’s discretion. These include costs related to “special” needs or education of the children and travel expenses for visitation.


Lisa L. Fiance, Esq.Lisa L. Fiance, Esq. is a family law attorney, divorce mediator, and the owner of Epiphany ADR in beautiful Oceanside, CA. The information contained in this article is intended as general information and does not constitute legal advice. If you have legal questions about child support, you should consult with legal counsel in the state in which you reside.


The Basis of the Child Support Obligation

Mutual Duty of Child Support

A parent’s first and principal obligation is to support his or her minor children according to the parent’s circumstances and station in life.  Under California law, this means:

  1. Both parents are mutually responsible for the support of their children.  The custodial parent is presumed to contribute some level of child support by providing a home and care for the child.
  2. Each parent should pay child support according to his or her ability.
  3. Children should share in the standard of living of both parents. Child support may therefore improve the standard of living of the custodial parent in order to improve the lives of the children.
  4. The financial needs of the children should be met through private financial resources (versus public assistance) as much as possible.

No Waivers

Child support is vastly different from spousal support.  In divorce mediation, parties can agree to waive spousal support or limit the court’s ability to decide issues involving spousal support. There are no such waivers where child support is involved.

No Waiver of Child Support

The right to child support lies exclusively with the child, independent of the parental relationship or any agreement between the parents. Therefore, unlike property and spousal support provisions, parents cannot contract away child support provisions without taking the proper legal actions.  Also, a custodial parent cannot deny the other parent’s visitation solely for the reason of unpaid child support.

No Waiver of Court Jurisdiction

In contrast to spousal support, parties may not limit the court’s jurisdiction over child support.  In California, the court must retain jurisdiction to set child support. Even if the custodial parent does not request child support from the other parent, the local child support agency (DCSS in California) may pursue a case for child support on the child’s behalf anytime public assistance is requested.

Lisa L. Fiance, Esq.Lisa L. Fiance, Esq. is a family law attorney, divorce mediator, and the owner of Epiphany ADR in beautiful Oceanside, CA.  The information contained in this article is intended as general information and does not constitute legal advice.  If you have legal questions about child support, you should consult with legal counsel in the state in which you reside.