While the process for divorce is the same regardless of how much you have in your bank account, the fact remains that high-net-worth individuals will likely have a far more complicated case since they have more to lose—or gain—in the settlement.
For this reason, a properly drafted and enforceable prenuptial agreement is crucial for high-net-worth marriages to protect the assets of the party bringing the majority of the wealth into the marriage, as well as ensure all parties are taken care of if the marriage results in divorce.
Since courts have the ability to toss out the agreement if they feel it was not drafted in good faith or the other party successfully disputes its validity, the prenup must be crafted carefully to ensure it is enforceable.
A Tale Of Two High-Net-Worth Divorces
Comparing the resulting divorce settlements of powerful businessmen Harold Hamm and Ken Griffin shows just how important it is for high-net-worth individuals to have a bulletproof prenup.
Hamm founded the Continental Resources oil company in 1967, and he had a net worth of around $16 million when he married Sue Ann Arnall in 1988. They did not secure a prenuptial agreement.
Fast-forward 26 years later, and Hamm’s net worth is now estimated between $11-17 billion when Sue Ann files for divorce. In an extensively litigated case that lasted years, Hamm ended up being ordered to sign over a check just shy of $1 billion.
Given that Oklahoma—the state of jurisdiction for the Hamms’ divorce—is an equitable distribution state, meaning that all property acquired during the course of the marriage is divided in a way the court finds “fair and equitable,” the lack of a prenup left Sue Ann with a legitimate argument that she was entitled to a larger share of the fortunes amassed during the marriage. She appealed the ruling; however, it ended up being dismissed because she cashed the check.
On the other hand, Griffin’s recent divorce shows how a prenup can be a beneficial tool for the extremely wealthy but also why it does not necessarily make for a cut-and-dry case.
Griffin founded the hedge fund Citadel in 1990 and had an estimated net worth of around $650 million when he married Anne Dias in 2003. They did sign a prenup.
When he filed for divorce 11 years later, his net worth was estimated around $6.9 billion. The recently settled case made headlines as Anne claimed the prenup was invalid because she was coerced into signing and that the amount awarded by the prenup represented less than 1 percent of Griffin’s net worth. However, the two sides were able to reach an agreement before the trial started, and though not all the details were released, it appears the prenup was upheld.
While the cases are both similar in that there was significant wealth generated during the course of a long-term marriage, the results for Griffin are obviously favorable as the case was settled much more quickly and with an assumed far lesser impact on his accumulated wealth.