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To limit divorce settlement, conservative billionaire argues that he got rich through luck

Oil billionaire Harold Hamm, the 24th richest person in the US
Oil billionaire Harold Hamm, the 24th richest person in the US
Michael S. Williamson / The Washington Post / Getty

On Tuesday, David Segal of the New York Times had a fascinating report on oil billionaire Harold Hamm's divorce settlement, which is one of the largest in history. Hamm married his wife in 1988, but he only became a billionaire over the past decade — when fracking in his large landholdings in the Bakken formation in North Dakota and Montana began yielding huge amounts of shale oil.

Now the 24th richest man in the country, Hamm apparently wanted to hold on to as much of that wealth as possible, and limit the size of the settlement. So he crafted his legal strategy around a quirk in Oklahoma divorce law. According to Segal, the money a spouse makes during a marriage can be considered in the  settlement "if it is made through skill" — but not if it's made through what the state's Supreme Court called "changing economic conditions, or circumstances beyond the parties' control."

So Hamm, who was Mitt Romney's top energy adviser during his presidential campaign and reportedly chipped in at least $1 million to the Koch brothers' fundraising network, was forced to argue that he didn't build that — he just got lucky. Segal continues:

As Mr. Hamm sought to poor-mouth his prowess, his company followed suit. Continental's proxy filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission for years have praised Mr. Hamm for "his leadership and business judgment." Not anymore. As Reuters wrote in September, that phrase was excised in the company's most recent proxy, along with a reference to Mr. Hamm as "one of the driving forces" behind Continental.

That Reuters report, by Joshua Schneyer and Brian Grow, found 18 examples of changes to Hamm's company website since the divorce began, many of which involved downplaying decisions made by Hamm or changing the chronology of important company events.

Hamm's legal strategy, while creative, didn't end up working — he'll be paying his ex-wife nearly $1 billion. Head over to Segal's report for the full story on the settlement.