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Oil company leader could lose shares to marital property division

Pennsylvania couples who are working through high-asset divorce scenarios may realize that some property division questions are very difficult to answer. This is particularly true for business owners or people who own large holdings within a business they operate. One Oklahoma man is now facing the possibility of losing control of Continental Resources, an oil production company, simply because of a quirk in the marital property laws in that state.

News reports show that the man holds a 68 percent stake in Continental. Most of those shares are considered premarital property, so they are not eligible for direct division with his soon-to-be ex-wife. However, the gains achieved by those shares are a different matter. If the woman can prove that her husband's efforts pushed the company's stock prices higher, then she may be entitled to a financial bounty. The company's shares have more than quadrupled since the 2007 initial public offering.

As a result, the woman could enjoy a multi-billion dollar windfall. The man's shares are currently valued at about $14.6 billion, according to estimates. The man founded Continental in 1967, and he has been at the helm of the firm for decades. He will be required to prove that his efforts did not directly contribute to the success of the company; rather, he could argue that the market naturally led the firm to success.

The case is slated to go to trial this summer. In the meantime, Continental is being required to produce some 600,000 pages of documentation for the woman's legal team. Representatives have characterized that business asset accounting process as onerous and disruptive.

Complex asset division rules differ from state to state, which is why it is critical for those with business assets to seek the help of a Pennsylvania attorney during their divorce. These professionals may assemble a complete divorce team to help guide clients through marital property division. A lawyer may assist clients with receiving their fair share of the marital estate.

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

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