Ex-wife of oil tycoon Harold Hamm rejects US$975 million divorce cheque

A divorce settlement check from Harold Hamm, chief executive of oil driller Continental Resources, to ex-wife Sue Ann Arnall in the amount of $974.8 million is shown in this image from a court document released to Reuters on Jan 6, 2015. -- PHOTO: RE
A divorce settlement check from Harold Hamm, chief executive of oil driller Continental Resources, to ex-wife Sue Ann Arnall in the amount of $974.8 million is shown in this image from a court document released to Reuters on Jan 6, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Sue Ann Hamm stands in the courthouse hall before divorce proceedings with Harold Hamm, founder and CEO of Continental Resources, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in this Sept 22, 2014 file photo. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Sue Ann Hamm stands in the courthouse hall before divorce proceedings with Harold Hamm, founder and CEO of Continental Resources, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in this Sept 22, 2014 file photo. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

 Oklahoma (Reuters) - Mr Harold Hamm, the chief executive of oil driller Continental Resources who is embroiled in a bitter divorce, offered to pay his former wife US$974.8 million ($1.3 billion), but she rejected a hand-written check, lawyers for both sides said.

Mr Hamm's offer would have paid his ex-wife, Ms Sue Ann Arnall, immediately the full cash value of what he owes based on a November divorce ruling by an Oklahoma County judge.

The lawyers said Ms Arnall did not want to accept the check for fear of hurting her appeal of that decision. Mr Michael Burrage, Mr Hamm's lawyer, said in an e-mail that Arnall could still cash the check if she wants to, and Mr Hamm had borrowed funds to ensure there would be enough cash in his account to cover it.

The fracking billionaire's offer to pay his ex-wife should stop the interest of more than US$93,000 per day that has accrued on the award since November, his lawyer said.

One of the ex-wife's lawyers, Mr Ron Barber, said that she has no plan to cash the check since accepting Mr Hamm's payment could hurt her appeal.

Ms Arnall and Mr Hamm both appeared in Oklahoma court on Tuesday, in part seeking to clarify how much of the November award to the ex-wife should be made available to her pending appeals in the case.

Oklahoma County Judge Howard Haralson did not offer a dollar amount. Mr Hamm's lawyers said that Ms Arnall could file an application for temporary relief or borrow money to fund her appeal and living costs if necessary.

Both Ms Arnall, who was formerly Sue Ann Hamm and resumed using her birth name after the divorce, and Mr Hamm have appealed the November divorce judgment.

Ms Arnall, a former Continental executive who was married to Mr Hamm for 26 years, contends that her award of around US$1 billion in cash and assets was inadequate and allowed Mr Hamm to keep the lion's share of a fortune her lawyers valued as high as US$18 billion.

Mr Hamm had already paid his former wife more than US$20 million during the divorce proceedings. His appeal contends that the US$1 billion award was too steep. He has lost billions tied to the value of his 68 per cent stake in Continental in recent months, which his legal team blames on the sharp fall in oil prices.

The dueling appeals are the latest twist in one of the largest divorce cases in US history. The contest pits America's biggest owner of oil against an attorney ex-wife intent on showing that the Hamm fortune stemmed from hard work - both his and hers - during a 26-year marriage.

Mr Hamm contends his Continental stake, which he owned before meeting Ms Arnall, surged in value during the marriage due to "passive" or market factors, like rising oil prices. Oklahoma law says only marital wealth stemming from active efforts or skills of either spouse should be split in a divorce.

The appeals risk dragging Mr Hamm and his Oklahoma City-based oil company deeper into a divorce battle that is already in its third year. The fight has entailed tens of millions of dollars in costs and a 10-week trial that ended in October. The case was conducted mostly behind closed doors, after the judge ruled that opening it would harm Continental.

November's judgment, while one of the biggest on record, allowed Mr Hamm to retain his majority stake in Continental, the top driller in North Dakota's oil boom. But the value of his Continental shares has fallen by more than half, to around US$8.2 billion, since the trial started in August. The company has said its CEO's divorce has not had an impact on its business or operations.