Family Dispute ‘Shows Blurred Line Between Loans And Gifts’

Expert Comments After Ruling On Chinese Vase


A two-year legal battle over who was entitled to the proceeds from the sale of a rare Chinese vase highlights the difficulties which can emerge when it comes to ruling on the ownership of assets, according to a family law expert at Irwin Mitchell.

Andrea Calland, 44, has been ordered to pay £228,000 which she raised through the sale of the Chinese Champion vase to her ex-boyfriend’s mother after a County Court judge ruled it was not technically hers to sell.

The case emerged when the record sale of the vase was reported in a local newspaper and Mrs Calland’s ex-boyfriend Steven Galloway recognised it as one lent to him by his mother Evelyn around 20 years ago. Together, they decided to fight to prove Mrs Galloway was the owner.

John Nicholson, Partner and family law expert at Irwin Mitchell’s London office, said there is often a fine line when it comes to the difference between a loan and a gift, adding that such technicalities only tend to emerge in cases where goods are sold for a high price.

He explained: “The line between the two is often very blurred. Here there seems to have been a clear attempt by the seller to blur what looks like a fairly clear picture of where the vase came from, which may have led the judge to disbelieve her when she said it was a gift.

“This most commonly arises in family law after a broken engagement, where parties can make claims under the archaic Married Women’s Property Act 1882.

“Effectively either party can go to court for a determination of who owns what, which often includes the thorny question of whether a particular item – a car is very common – was an outright gift, or the use of it was merely permissive.

“Of course, at the end of a marriage, provided one or other of the parties owns an item, a judge may award it to either party without necessarily following the legal ownership.”

John added that the case has also highlighted the emotional toll that a long dispute in court can take and said: “The suggestion in reports that Mr Galloway was relieved to see the case come to an end highlights how draining disputes over assets can be.

“We would always encourage parties who are in conflict over such issues to consider the route of mediation in an effort to resolve disputes in a quick and amicable manner which spares them the heartache of a long legal battle.”