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Increased value of stock at stake in high-asset divorce

By Sarah Jacobs, Esq.

When a couple gets divorced in New Jersey, the law holds that their marital assets and debts should be divided equitably. The division of assets can be one of the most complicated processes to deal with during a divorce. It can also be one of the most contentious issues, especially when there is a significant amount of money at stake.

In high-asset divorce cases, there is generally much more than a marital home and shared banking accounts to divide. There may also be multiple properties, business interests, investments and retirement accounts that need to be considered. In order for the equitable division of assets to occur, it is first necessary to determine which assets are even considered marital property, this issue alone can present significant challenges.

For example, billionaire Harold Hamm is in the process of divorcing. He and his wife have been married for 26 years and during that time they have accrued an enormous estate. Hamm is reportedly worth $17.5 billion. Much of this is attributed to 125 million shares of stock he holds in Continental Resources, Inc.

Now that the couple is getting divorced, these shares have become a major point of contention. A judge previously ruled that the shares themselves are not considered marital assets, but that the stock’s appreciation during the marriage may still be determined to be a marital asset if the efforts of either party, rather than just market changes, caused the increase in value.

This case highlights the complexities of property division in equitable distribution states such as New Jersey. Determining whether assets are shared or separate property can be complicated enough without also having to take into consideration the appreciation or depreciation values of such assets. In these situations, individuals are often wise to protect their rights and interests as best as possible by seeking legal counsel.

Source: Bloomberg, “Continental Resources Founder’s Stake at Risk in Divorce,” Brendan Coffey, March 19, 2014

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