Many women and men are left with very little after a divorce, so I can understand the outrage some might have when they read that the ex-wife of an energy tycoon plans to appeal a court ruling that awarded her nearly $1 billion in a divorce settlement.
An Oklahoma County judge awarded $995.4 million in cash and assets to Sue Ann Hamm, who was married for 26 years to Continental Resources chief executive Harold Hamm before she filed for divorce in 2012.
Harold Hamm called the judgment “fair and equitable.”
Ron Barber, an attorney representing Sue Ann Hamm, told Jay F. Marks at the Oklahoman newspaper that his client plans to appeal the settlement, arguing that it represents less than 6 percent of the couple’s estimated $18 billion net worth.
Divorce lawyers said they were surprised by how small the award was.
“I would have expected that a larger percentage of the wealth be attributed to marital skill and labor,” Carolyn Thompson, an Oklahoma family law expert, told Reuters’s Joshua Schneyer. “Instead, the judge is ruling that the vast majority of the increase was attributable to market factors outside of Harold Hamm’s control.”
As Schneyer reports, under the law in Oklahoma, the growth of assets is typically equally divided if the appreciation is deemed the result of the efforts or skills of either spouse during the marriage. Harold Hamm’s lawyers argued that most of growth in the value of Continental stock was the result of factors beyond his control, such as rising oil prices.
I know the numbers are big, but the argument that Harold Hamm had little to do with the increase in the couple’s household net worth and thus shouldn’t have to share more with his former wife is unfair. If people think Sue Ann Hamm should be satisfied with $1 billion, why isn’t the reverse true? Why shouldn’t the ex-husband be able to live on half of the $18 billion the stock is worth?
But let’s put this all in perspective, shall we?
“Unfortunately, for most people, separating from a spouse likely means a leaner financial life,” Teresa Tritch wrote in a blog post for the New York Times
Was there an injustice in the divorce award for Sue Ann Hamm? Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line, put “$1 Billion Divorce Award.”
Please join me at noon Eastern time for my regular online financial question-and-answer session. This week, my guest will be Gerri Walsh, president of the FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) Investor Education Foundation. We’ll be talking about my selection for the Color of Money Book Club for this month, which wasn’t a book but a fascinating documentary called “Thinking Money: The Psychology Behind Our Best and Worst Financial Decisions.” The FINRA Investor Education Foundation funded the film. Here’s my review.
To participate in the conversation or submit a question, click on this link. If you can join me live, you can send in your question early.
There was a powerful essay this week by Alexandra Brodsky, a student at Yale Law School and founding co-director of Know Your IX, a national student campaign against campus gender-based violence.
Brodsky breaks down the financial toll a sexual assault can have on college students. Take the example of one student: She reported abuse by her boyfriend, and the emotional trauma led to poor grades and her eventually dropping out of school. The woman finally graduated, but not before amassing $100,000 in student loan debt.
“Stories from students across the country show that colleges and universities often shirk their responsibilities to support survivors,” Brodsky wrote. “Students are then left to fend for themselves (with the help of their families, if they are lucky) as they try to stay in school. Thousands of dollars can disappear into rent for a new apartment off campus, away from an abusive ex, or into bills for hours of much-needed counseling. When a school denies survivors the services and support they need to recover, students may be forced to take out additional loans — or even to leave school, a semester’s tuition down the drain. These expenses are a heavy burden for middle class survivors and their families, and often simply beyond the reach of low-income students.”
Brodsky continues: “For a student who lacks the means to swallow these costs, sexual violence might mean the end of her education.”
Brava to her for pointing out another ugly and expensive outcome when students are sexually assaulted.
A just-released study by HelloWallet, a company that provides online financial help as an employer-provided benefit, puts the debate of home-buying vs. renting into perspective. If the cost of renting is less than that of owning a home and you save well, you can accumulate just as much wealth as homeowners do, the study contends.
So last week I asked: Does the American dream of homeownership still make financial sense? Send your responses to email@example.com. Please include your full name, city and state.
“In addition to a mortgage, the price of upkeep of a home can be extremely expensive,” wrote Jennifer Bartell of Johnsonville, S.C. “Woe to you if you need a plumber, electrician, or contractor! One of the advantages of renting is that the landlord is responsible for fixing any necessary repairs.”
Jerry Swantner of Alexandria wrote: “I have always thought of a home as a place you live and raise your family, not as an investment. Through 401(k) and other investment vehicles over the years the equity in our home has become the smallest part of our portfolio. I frequently say that ‘the only real estate I own is the house I live in and sometimes that is even more than I would like.’ ”
Claudell Woods of Magnolia, Ark., argues that homeownership still makes sense. “Prospective homeowners have to be prudent,” Woods said. “They should consider their personal situation, i.e., mobility, income, amount currently paying for rent, personal relationship. But, if they plan to stay in the same or similar area for a number of years, then it still makes sense to pay the same money toward homeownership that one is now paying to rent. Prospective homeowners must be prudent in shopping for homes that are reasonably priced and match their personal and financial situation. This is not the time that first home should, primarily, be considered as investment property. There is, generally, a different and positive mind-set that comes from being an owner as oppose to a renter.”
Stephanie Eldridge contributed to this report.
Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20071, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to www.postbusiness.com.