Henry Brookman provides the answer to a Financial Times’ ‘Wealth Question’ regarding who ultimately owns jewellery that has been purchased by a spouse for their partner.

A brief history

Dating back to before the 1870 Married Women’s Property Act, the presumption was that jewellery purchased by the husband had been lent to the wife “for the decoration of her person” and therefore was not hers to own. However, in more recent years, the Married Women’s Property Act was superseded by the legal presumption of advancement. This considered a purchase (for instance, from husband to wife) be the property of the wife unless the husband could provide sufficient evidence that the purchase was not a gift. For instance, simply saying that the purchase was for investment rather than as a permanent gift would not be considered sufficient evidence.

The presumption of advancement – extended to civil partnerships

In 2004 the presumption of advancement was extended to civil partners in the Civil Partnership Act. This meant that civil partners could also quite safely assume that jewellery purchased for them as a gift would remain their property if the relationship subsequently broke down. The partner who made the purchase would have to provide evidence dating back to the original purchase date to prove that the purchase was not a gift but was intended to remain their property.

New rules: The 2010 Equality Act

On 1st October 2010 the presumption of advancement was abolished by the Equality Act. Whilst purchases made prior to this date are not affected by the new rules, any purchases made as ‘gifts’ after this date will be considered differently. Now, a judge will review all the evidence surrounding the purchase and typically, the assumption will be that the person who made the purchase will ultimately benefit from it. Therefore, unless the wife or partner who received the ‘gift’ could in fact prove that a gift was intended, the husband could argue that the purchase had only been loaned. In particular, an item that is an heirloom from the husband’s family will now be easier to recover from the wife or partner.

It is also worth noting that these purchases will not be limited to jewellery. For instance, the husband’s name on the invoice for a new watch or his name as the registered keeper for his wife’s car could well be sufficient proof of ownership.

If you would like to know more about this issue please contact Brookman Solicitors for more information.

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