The Wyoming Supreme Court is bracing to decide whether to uphold the court-ordered money split in the most expensive divorce of the state’s history.
Heiress Anne Holding, whose family formerly owned Sinclair, is arguing before the Wyoming Supreme Court that a lower court wrongly ordered her to pay more than $202 million to her husband, Christian Peterson, after he filed for divorce in 2021. The pair were married for nearly 40 years.
Holding is the daughter of the late Robert Earl Holding, who made a fortune running Little America, Sinclair Oil, and other businesses.
The $202,581,208 divorce payment represents half of the REH Co. stock Holding’s family gave to her throughout her marriage but before her separation from Peterson, and half of another smaller investment, according to court documents.
But Do You Need That?
Holding is arguing to the Wyoming Supreme Court that District Court Judge Suzannah Robinson was wrong to consider the wife’s family inheritance as part of the property to be divided in the divorce without proof that Peterson needed it to settle debts or handle poor health circumstances, and without proof that Peterson was ever supposed to have access to that inheritance.
Peterson countered, arguing in his own appeal brief that Holding is just now balking at giving Peterson half her inheritance value without proof that he really needs it, and that she didn’t raise this issue while the argument was in the lower court.
“This Court should not consider it for the first time on appeal,” reads Peterson’s brief. He also pointed to Wyoming case law giving district courts “considerable discretion” in splitting up property in divorces.
While Holding pointed to case law showing courts splitting up inheritances to compensate divorce parties due to their economic need, Peterson noted that this requirement isn’t set in Wyoming’s statutes.
“This is contrary to public policy,” reads Peterson’s brief.
A Lot Of Stock To Sell
Holding also doesn’t have access to $202.6 million in cash, she has argued, and would have to sell her own shares in the family business to hand Peterson $202 million. That process would take a long time and could be full of plot twists, she said.
Robinson specifically avoided giving half of Holding’s shares to Peterson, saying this could disadvantage Holding next to her siblings, who would then own much more stock in the family business. But Robinson ordered Holding to pay Peterson half the value of the shares she inherited during their marriage (and before their separation) by gathering the equivalent of those shares’ cash value however she could.
Holding is claiming the judge was inconsistent in imposing a payment that will leave her, allegedly, with no choice but to sell off the family shares Robinson sought to keep intact.
“The District Court did indirectly what it refused to do directly,” Holding’s brief argues. “(It) once again said one thing but did another.”
Peterson, however, has disputed Holding’s claim that she has no choice but to sell off many shares in her family business. He has argued that Holding could get a loan for the $202.6 million.
Holding characterized that as improbable.
Perfectly Fine, Says Husband
While Holding is arguing that Robinson overlooked Wyoming law and court precedent in giving Peterson half of her inherited company stock value, Peterson is arguing that the order is in line with state law.
It’s a hefty sum above what Holding had proposed to give Peterson during the early phases of this divorce: $1 million per year or a lump sum of $10 million.
“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.”
This Trust Though
Peterson implied in his brief that Holding committed fraud by transferring shares to a trust, that their daughter started, on multiple occasions, but he said a fraud finding wouldn't be necessary to uphold his court-ordered payout. One major transfer happened after Holding met with a divorce attorney in 2014, court documents say. Another happened immediately after the pair’s official separation in 2018.
Holding noted that Robinson made no findings of fraud in her decision letter describing the assets split. Therefore, she argued, Robinson should not have considered the value of that trust when dividing up the divorce property.
Peterson had tried to get the trust added into the divorce as a party to the case, but that effort failed.
“Those assets are not (Holding’s) property,” reads Holding’s brief. “They are third-party property. Under Wyoming law, the District Court could not account for and divide the value of those assets, absent a finding of fraud.”
Robinson had found that Holding’s activity with the trust bore some “badges of fraud,” tilting the division in Peterson’s favor without an actual fraud finding.
Peterson also noted that while Robinson considered the values in the trust as part of the split sum, Robinson is letting Peterson make up the value from it that she owes in any way she sees fit — not necessarily by raiding the trust, which is designated for Holding’s health, education and maintenance.
“The district court did not distribute assets from the … Trust,” Peterson’s brief argues. “Because Wife limited her arguments to a legal challenge, the inquiry should end here.”
Only $21 Million Right Now
Holding only has access to about $21 million in cash, she told Robinson’s court in an earlier filing.
But Robinson ordered Holding to pay the $202 million by June 28. After that, Holding started owing Peterson interest at a rate of 10%.
That’s $55,502 per day.
By the time the appeal is over, Holding will owe Peterson about $3.1 million in interest alone, court documents say.
Holding asked the court instead to let her pay off the $202.6 million over the course of the next 10 years, saying it’s not right for her to have to pay millions in interest just because she decided to appeal the outcome.
Peterson argued against this idea, saying his due would only lose value over the years as inflation grew while Holding, meanwhile, would get to invest and profit from the lump sum, but Peterson would get just a portion of it each month.
“Wife’s request for 10 years of interest-free payments again demonstrates that Wife wants to be able to continue to assert control over Husband,” Peterson argued.
Robinson denied Holding’s request for a longer timeline.
Holding appealed to the high court May 8. She submitted her brief June 22. Peterson submitted his own brief opposing Holding’s arguments Aug. 7.
At the time of their divorce filing, Peterson was worth about $6.15 million while Holding was worth about $602 million, plus another $1.87 billion in REH shares, court documents say.
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.