Valuable tokens of love often pass between couples but, where relationships later break down, issues can arise as to whether they were outright gifts. The High Court was confronted with precisely that question in a case concerning an Aston Martin sports car worth in the region of £200,000.
Following their engagement, a couple’s wedding plans were stymied by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the event, there was no ceremony and the relationship came to an acrimonious end. The car was delivered shortly before they parted. Having arranged its purchase, the man swiftly sought its return. The woman, however, asserted that it was an unconditional gift to her and that she was entitled to retain it.
At a preliminary hearing, the man sought summary judgment on his claim for delivery up of the car or damages in lieu. He contended that the car had been acquired on hire purchase and that it was owned not by him but by a finance company. Never having obtained title to the car, he asserted that he had no power to give it away. He said that, had he done so, that would have been a breach of the HP agreement.
For her part, the woman disputed much of his account of events and accused him of deceit. She claimed that he told her he wanted to buy her the Aston Martin as a gift so that they would each have matching cars of the same colour. She said that she had acted to her detriment in reliance on his assurance that the car would be hers.
Rejecting the man’s application, the Court found that the woman had, at the lowest, a real prospect of success in defending the claims and in pursuing her counterclaims. The dispute was too factually complex to enable a resolution without a full trial. In urging them to seek mediation of their differences, however, the Court noted that the car was not the only item at issue between them. An engagement ring, worth a six-figure sum, and other valuable assets were also at stake.