Writing a $974,790,317.77 check and moving on in divorce

Sometimes keeping things in perspective is half of the battle.

Recently, a couple from the midwest (Harold and Sue Ann) were going through a divorce. Harold is a billionaire, but his fortune is largely tied to the price of oil. Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.The price of oil can and does fluctuate . Therefore the value of their marital assets can and do fluctuate.

 

The court valued Harold and Sue Ann’s marital estate at a little over two billion dollars. The Oklahoma divorce court awarded Sue Ann almost half. In an effort to end the divorce proceedings, Harold decided to write a check to Sue Ann for $974,790,317.77. You may have already seen a copy of the widely publicized check.

Here is a link from Reuters with the story and an image of Harold’s handwritten check to Sue Ann:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/01/09/us-hamm-divorce-wife-idUSKBN0KH2BK20150109

Sue Ann allegedly vowed to appeal the award, claiming Harold’s company was worth much more. A few days later, she cashed the check, pretty much ending her rights on appeal regarding the valuation and distribution of marital assets.

Why is this story important? 

This story is important because this couple could have spent more money on lawyers fighting over millions (or billions) of dollars, with absolutely no guarantee of a positive outcome for either party. I imagine Harold is a very smart guy. Instead of fighting for an indeterminate amount of time with no guarantee that either party would achieve a better outcome, he simply wrote a check that “got the deal done”.  Harold simply wrote a check to Sue Ann for $974,790,317.77. She deposited the check a few days later. Here below is a link to the story from CBS news:

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/harold-hamms-ex-wife-cashes-billion-dollar-divorce-check/

Harold appeared on CNBC soon after Sue Ann cashed the check. Here is the link to his very short interview:

http://www.cnbc.com/id/102462914

Notice Harold’s mindset. During the CNBC interview, he said his divorce is “in the rearview mirror, movin’ on”.

While the case may still be pending on appeal, many legal analysts believe that Sue Ann faces an uphill battle to overturn the award on appeal.

For some going through divorce, the story of Harold and Sue Ann should act as a reminder that setting smart goals (i.e. putting the divorce in the rearview and movin’ on) is often an important part of a good overall strategy.

 

How long does it take to get divorced in Pennsylvania ? – It depends upon a number of things

How long does it take to get divorced in Pennsylvania? Unfortunately, there are no easy or common answers. It depends upon a number of factors. Perhaps as much as than any other area of law, divorce and family law cases are factually different from one another. Here below is a non-exhaustive and very basic, extremely short list of factors and reasons that commonly impact the total elapsed time between filing a divorce complaint in Pennsylvania, to the entry of a divorce decree.

Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.
Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.

a) Filing for a Mutual Consent, No Fault Divorce – If your circumstances allow, Pennsylvania has a 90 day waiting period from the commencement of the divorce action for uncontested (mutual consent), no fault divorce, without any other economic issues. Economic issues between the parties can slow the divorce process down. The 90 day waiting period acts as a “cooling off” period. Depending on the county where you file, the particular judge, the potential backlog, etc., the time it takes the court to enter a divorce decree is usually 4 to 6 months for a mutual consent, no fault divorce without economic issues. Note: Do not plan to get remarried until you have a divorce decree in hand. Things can and do get delayed.

b) Filing for divorce under Irretrievable Breakdown of the marriage section of the divorce code requires that the parties live separate and apart for at least two years. What is an “irretrievable breakdown”? Pennsylvania law defines it as “estrangement due to marital difficulties with no reasonable prospect of reconciliation”. If this sounds like your situation, you will need to live separate and apart for at least two years and the defendant agrees that the marriage is over. Note: you certainly can, and some people do “live separate and apart” under the same roof for all or part of the two year waiting period while they wait to obtain money to purchase a new home, or for other reasons. If one of the parties wants to try to reconcile, the court can order up to three counseling sessions. Note: Pennsylvania legislation is being considered to reduce the “living separate and apart” requirement from two years to one year.

UPDATE – NOVEMBER 2016: The PA legislature has passed a bill shortening the waiting period from two years to one year, for those who file for divorce under the Irretrievable Breakdown of the marriage section of the PA Divorce Code.

c) Extensive marital assets that need to be valued prior to being divided can slow down your divorce. Homes, businesses, pension plans, retirement plans, stock options, artwork, etc., etc. In some cases the parties disagree on the method used to value the asset and this can cause significant additional expense and delay.

d) Marital assets that for one reason or another are “missing” or misappropriated.

e) Backlog in the system, or one side is not adequately prepared to move forward when they should to be. This may include one party having an attorney while the other is without an attorney (known as a pro se party).

f) One of the parties cannot be located.

g) If the parties agree to use binding arbitration, the collaborative divorce process or mediation to settle economic issues they cannot otherwise settle, this can usually move the process along much more quickly than traditional litigation. Drawback:  alternate dispute resolution methods can still be expensive, but not as expensive as litigation.

h) One of the parties truly cannot see the forest from the trees and decides to “scorch the earth” (sometimes with cooperation from their counsel or on advice from others) on every point, no matter how minor. This may include refusing to negotiate a reasonable  marital settlement agreement, demanding all aspects of the case be litigated, being unresponsive to discovery requests, deciding that “having their day in court” must occur despite great expense and lack of any guaranteed result.

i) One of the parties mistakenly believes that seeking revenge via the divorce process is somehow better than getting on with their life. This can be a mental health issue that may be helped with coaching, counseling and the like.

These are just a few of the many issues that can arise and impact how long your divorce process takes. As you and your attorney navigate the legal landscape during a Pennsylvania divorce, stay focused on the end game. Less conflict means things move more quickly and usually with less cost to the parties. A skilled family law attorney will be able to keep your matter moving swiftly to a successful conclusion, while keeping you informed of the process.

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