Harold Hamm and his soon-to-be ex-wife recently entered their second week in court over disagreements concerning their divorce settlement. Hamm, who is an oil tycoon billionaire, apparently objects to the division of property, based on the way in which he earned his money. Either way, his divorce has the potential to be one of the most expensive in history. Illinois couples who are readying to divorce should be aware of how assets were earned, as this can affect property division.

Hamm and his wife were married for 25 years before they announced that they were divorcing. As the founder of Continental Resources, he had earned much of his wealth over the course of his marriage. However, he says that he did not actively earn his billions, meaning that he did not deliberately make that money. Instead, he claims that it was earned passively. In other words, it all came down to luck rather than the decisions that he made.

It is argued that passive factors fall outside of marital assets and are not subjected to equitable distribution. Aside from how he earned his fortune, he also argued that since he founded his company 20 years before ever getting married that any stake he had in Continental should be considered personal property. This has been disputed, as Continental Resources essentially quintupled its value relatively recently.

Illinois is an equitable distribution state, dealing with the division of property by awarding each party what is considered to be a fair share of the marital assets, although this division is not always split equally. It is unclear how much Hamm’s wife will be entitled to if it is determined that his fortune was earned passively, although she may be entitled to billions if the judge agrees that he actively earned it. Although some couples may be able to address issues of asset division through mutual agreement or with the aid of a third-party mediator, in situations when this is not possible, it may be necessary to proceed to court to have a judge issue the final decision concerning the divorce settlement.

Source: CNBC, “Priciest Divorce Ever? How Oilman Harold Hamm Could Lost $17 Billion“, Tony Dokoupil, Aug. 24, 2014