Photo of Karen Lavin

For many Illinoisans, divorce can be one of the most difficult chapters in their lives. For younger couples, the hardest issues tend to revolve around child custody. For older couples, the hardest issues tend to revolve around property division. Take, for instance, an oil tycoon’s divorce.

The divorce marks the end of a 26 year marriage between the tycoon and his wife, a time in which the couple saw its wealth expand a thousand-fold. But, before the divorce can be finalized, the parties need to determine how split their nearly $20 billion fortune.

The key to deciding how to divvy up the fortune is to determine how instrumental the oil tycoon was in the growth of his business. If the tycoon’s leadership was a key driver of the business’ growth, as the company’s website and other literature suggest, the wife can expect a bigger portion of the estate. If, on the other hand, luck and nonhuman factors, like the strength of the oil market, are the primary driver, the wife can expect less.

The dichotomy puts the spouses in an odd position. The tycoon has every incentive to minimize his role in his business’ success, while his wife has every reason to lionize the tycoon. The surprising dichotomy is the result of a local law that makes the tycoon’s efforts during the marriage a marital asset.

While the couple has more assets than most, their experience is much the same as other Illinoisans going through property division. The first step in dividing marital assets to figure out what property is actually marital property. That is the question the tycoon and his wife are working through now: was his fortune a marital asset or not?

For help with these and other questions, Illinoisans may benefit from discussing their case with an experienced divorce attorney. However, the trick is always starting the consultation process early.

Source: Reuters, “Billion-dollar debate in Oklahoma divorce: Was oilman just lucky?,” Joshua Schneyer, Aug. 3, 2014