How much money do you need to live? Or, is the question really, how much money should you be entitled to receive, regardless of what it costs you to live? That is the practical question presented when billionaires divorce, as most recently illustrated by the divorce of Oklahoma energy magnate Harold Hamm and his ex-wife Sue Ann.
In that case, it appears that a divorce court awarded Harold about $2 billion and Sue Ann received $995 million, which is approximately 33% of the alleged marital estate. Sue Ann is appealing this ruling, claiming that the estate is really worth $18 billion and therefore, the property award she received is less than 6% of their net worth.
The legal arguments in this case no doubt will focus on the proper valuation of the marital estate, the parties’ 20 year marriage, how much time and effort Sue Ann devoted to helping grow Harold’s energy businesses and whether or not there is a non-marital claim. Presumably, Sue Ann was there in the early days of Harold’s company, she may well have been instrumental in helping the company become what it is today, either directly by her own efforts or indirectly by acting as an advisor to Harold or by running the household and raising the children.
It is difficult to view these legal issues in isolation from the practical and common sense reality of the staggering amount of money involved. If Sue Ann is correct, and the estate is really worth closer to $18 billion, why should she receive only 10%? If Sue Ann is wrong, and the estate is only worth approximately $3 billion, why should she have received only 33%? In absolute terms, Sue Ann received $995 million dollars. Regardless of the percentages, we all know that no one really needs that amount of money to live.
When appeals courts decide the cases before them, they also have an eye on the so-called “big picture,” meaning how their decision in one case will affect decisions in cases yet to come. The task of appellate lawyers is to review the facts and apply the law to them. Legally, the case is not really about how much money Harold and Sue Ann have, but rather, it is about each of their respective contributions to the marriage and, as a result, how Harold and Sue Ann’s estate should be divided. In this case, it certainly will be interesting to see how the appellate court values and allocates the estate.