When the husband of a Sinclair Oil Co. heiress filed for divorce, a Wyoming district court had to decide how to split more than $1 billion in investments, property and other assets.
Anne Holding is one of three children of Robert Earl and Carol Holding, who built or operated multiple successful companies, including Little America and Sinclair Oil.
Now she’s being ordered to pay her husband of 40 years, Christian N. Peterson, about $200 million as an equalization payment, according to a divorce decision authored Jan. 24 by Sweetwater County District Court Judge Suzannah G. Robinson.
Holding married Peterson more than 40 years ago on Sept. 8, 1982, and the pair had four children together and worked in the Holding companies for years before they were both discharged. They’re now in their late 60s.
Peterson filed for divorce Nov. 23, 2021, and the pair hashed out their financial disagreements at a bench trial Oct. 24-26, 2022.
Peterson’s net worth as of trial was about $6.15 million. His wife’s net worth was about $602 million, but that does not include another roughly $482 million in assets in a trust Holding controls.
Peterson asked the court to give him 35% of Holding’s total assets, the decision states. Holding, conversely, asked the court to allow her to give Peterson a lump sum of $10 million, or $1 million a year for the rest of his life.
The court disliked both offers, calling them “insufficient, unfair and inequitable.”
“Although $10 million would be viewed as wildly fortunate to most Americans and Wyoming divorce litigants, this is not the question before the court,” Robinson wrote. “The question before the court is what is fair and equitable in this divorce with these parties.”
The court said that Peterson’s “only regular income” is $1,900 a month from renting a junkyard he owns, though a via ferrata company he owns generated about $70,000 in the past year.
Holding’s tax return indicates her adjusted gross income for 2021 was $47.6 million, according to the court decision.
Split The Marriage Pot
What is fair and equitable, Robinson decided, is for Holding to split evenly with Peterson the gifts and assets she received throughout their marriage, but not her REH stocks dating from before their marriage and after their official separation in 2018.
Holding received about 129,095 stock shares throughout her marriage valued at roughly $368 million. Before her marriage and after her official separation from Peterson in 2018, however, Holding received about 112,446 REH (Sinclair) shares.
Holding also received $17 million in tax refunds in 2008, following a year of significant losses in the Sinclair enterprise. Though her family pressured Holding to give the $17 million to them, Robinson wrote, Peterson persuaded Holding to invest the money instead.
Holding did, and it is now worth about $37.4 million.
The total assets acquired during the marriage, about $405.3 million, Robinson continued, should be split between the pair.
Holding already gave Peterson $74,142 for his attorney’s fees for the divorce, so Robinson subtracted that amount from the final payment due to him, saying each party should pay their own attorneys’ fees.
Trust Contested At Trial
There were two key disputes at trial, Robinson wrote: whether Holding shifted assets to a multi-million dollar trust fund to keep money from Peterson, and whether Peterson should have pieces of Holding’s family ranch in Park County, Wyoming, which she runs with their son.
Robinson pointed to the 101 Trust, a trust fund of which Holding became trustee on Feb. 28, 2013.
Holding has nearly all control of the trust and its assets and is the primary beneficiary of it, while her children are secondary beneficiaries.
The trust is expected to supply all of Holdings’ needs and the level of living she’s accustomed to for the rest of her life, Robinson wrote.
Holding started transferring REH stock into the trust on Jan. 25, 2018, six days after sending a “separation email” to Peterson and their children, cementing the pair’s separation as permanent.
The trust is currently valued at about $482.5 million.
‘Badges Of Fraud’
Robinson said that Holding’s activity with the trust bore some “badges of fraud,” which is enough to tilt the division in Peterson’s favor without an actual fraud finding.
Some of those badges, according to court precedent, include a close relationship with those involved with the trust, the timing surrounding transfers into it, whether those transfers happen in a hurried or secret manner and whether the transfer takes place amid a looming threat of litigation.
Holding had countered in court, saying she intended for the trust to preserve her assets so they could pass to her children and grandchildren.
She also said that Peterson lost her trust in the early 2000s by mismanaging advances from a $2 million home equity line of credit loan, which Holding paid toward.
“Although not specifically stated, the court understood Wife’s loss of trust in husband was based upon what she viewed as financial irresponsibility and in particular, a continuous failure to be financially responsible related to the (loan) – continuously taking out advances and never making principal payments,” Robinson wrote.
Holding’s children were on her side, the court’s order states.
“It was obvious at trial the parties’ children were supporting Wife’s position, believed Husband’s financial requests in the divorce to be unreasonable and believed he was attempting to take away property they believed Wife would provide to them and their children as an inheritance,” Robinson wrote.
This understanding impacted how the court handled the Crandall Creek Ranch in Park County, which Holding manages with her son.
The decision says Peterson had testified in emotional tones that he wanted parts of the ranch because he was sentimental about having spent time with his children there and wanted to live there near his ex-wife so that his children and grandchildren could have easy access to them both.
That vision was understandable, Robinson wrote, “but being envisioned with rose-colored glasses.”
Robinson said it’s more likely that putting Peterson on the ranch would deepen the family schism.
“Last, the land Husband asks for is not land owned by the family at the time he describes having fond memories of spending time in the area,” Robinson added. “They were purchased more recently. The Court does not give much weight to Husband’s emotional tie to the land parcels.”
However, with his $200 million divorce payment, Peterson could buy other lands in Park County if he wishes, Robinson added.
Like A Monarchy
Holding worked for the family businesses from her childhood until discharged in 2009.
Peterson also worked for the Holdings’ businesses from 1986 to 2003, when he was discharged.
The Holding family “and in particular Earl Holding, largely determined the parties’ financial condition during the marriage,” wrote Robinson, adding that the Holdings’ degree of benevolence at any given time also likely determined much of the Petersons’ marital happiness “or lack thereof.”
Later in the order, Robinson wrote that the Holding family functioned like the British monarchy, with emphasis on keeping money and control in the bloodline; spouses were “seen as outsiders” and weren’t given ownership or control of company stock.
Robinson decided that awarding Peterson the lump sum would be better than awarding him company stock, because doing so could diminish Holding’s standing as an heir compared with her two siblings.
Holding’s father Robert Earl Holding died in 2013. Her mother Carol is 93 and suffering from congestive heart failure, Robinson wrote.
Tore It Up
The Petersons’ actual date of separation was disputed in court. While Holding dispatched an email cementing their separation Jan. 19, 2018, neither party disputed having lived separately since August 2014, after Holding told Peterson they should separate.
They lived separately at earlier times in their marriage as well, and “it appears Husband had some confusion or at least hope of reconciliation following his departure from the marital residence in 2014,” Robinson wrote.
Both of them had “thoughts of divorce” for years before Peterson filed for divorce, the document reads, adding that Holding discussed with an attorney the possibility of divorce in 2014.
She tried to have Peterson enter into a post-nuptial agreement at that time, in which he’d deed his half of the marital home to Holding, give up any ownership claim on her Sinclair stock and forego ownership in Island Lake LLC, a family company.
Peterson signed the agreement, Robinson wrote, but “quickly tore it up.”
He later did deed his ownership in the marital home and Island Lake to Holding in exchange for Holding paying off a loan, the document adds.