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North Dakota oilman may lose more than anticipated

When a powerful North Dakota oilman announced that he was going to get divorced from his wife, he also told the shareholders that it was not going to impact his position in the company. He owns 126 million shares in his own company, and 122 of those were said to be his possessions from before the marriage began. A judge ruled that he would not have to turn any of those over to his wife. The other shares that he had acquired during the marriage would need to be split up.

However, the divorce is technically going through in Oklahoma, even though the oil company works out of North Dakota. The family laws in Oklahoma are slightly different than those in many other states. One small detail that pertains to divorce could really change how much the man has to give to his wife.

Under the laws in the state, she can claim that the increase in price of the shares while they were married is closely linked to -- and dependent on -- the things that her husband was doing. She can say that he directly influenced the value. The increase of value is then an increase in wealth made during their marriage, so she can claim that part of that increase is hers.

On the other side, the oilman will have to show that he really did not have an impact on the increase. He could point to other factors, such as the price of oil and how it has gone up everywhere, saying that he was not responsible for the increase, which would mean that he does not owe her a portion.

During a high asset divorce, little intricacies in the law can mean the difference between who gets millions or, in this case, billions of dollars. People must know how the laws work and what they mean in each state.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Divorce May Weaken Oilman's Stake in Drilling Powerhouse" Tom Fowler, Mar. 21, 2014

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