How are gifts treated in divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership?

Posted 2nd April 2024

The Government’s 2022 English Housing Survey reported that 27 per cent of first-time buyers used gifts from family or friends to fund their house deposit. With the average deposit now required exceeding £43,000, it is hardly surprising that so many seek the help from their family to get their foot onto the property ladder. Well-intended parents will often gift large sums of money to their adult children without taking any legal advice or having any formal documentation drafted.

“As family lawyers, we regularly see sizeable gifts being made by family members to help newly married couples starting out,’ says Connor Williams, a litigation executive in the family team with Borneo Martell Turner Coulston. ‘Difficulties can arise if that marriage or civil partnership later breaks down. The spouse or civil partner whose family have been so generous may expect to see a larger share when it comes to dividing the matrimonial assets. Unfortunately, that will not always be the case.”

What does the law say about gifts?

A gift can be any item, such as jewellery, vehicles or money provided to another person. Gifts can be redistributed by a court if that is deemed necessary for the fair division of assets. For less valuable gifts, it is best to try and agree how these will be divided by proposing a list of the gifts you wish to retain. A formal valuation is likely to be required for more valuable gifts in order that the assets can be fairly accounted for in the division of assets.

Typically, it is monetary gifts that are most likely to cause conflict in attempting to agree the financial settlement after a divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership.

Issues with financial gifts

In most divorces, gifts are treated along with the rest of the matrimonial assets which are subject to being divided. That is because most divorces are dealt with on a ‘needs’ basis i.e. any financial settlement will cater for the financial needs of each partner or spouse.
Some divorces, typically those where assets exceed several million pounds, can be dealt with on a ‘sharing’ basis. That is because there is significant excess wealth above that which is required to meet the financial needs of the separating couple. In a sharing case, the court will consider significant gifts from one partner or a spouse’s family. This may result in that spouse or partner obtaining a larger share of assets to reflect their family’s contribution.

Is it a gift, or a loan?

It is not unusual to find, after a separation, that the family who generously provided money claim this was in fact a loan not a gift. This is because loans and gifts are treated differently by the law. If a loan is made, then the loan needs to be repaid or taken into account prior to the division of assets in a financial separation.

In determining if the money provided was a gift or a loan, the court will examine all the surrounding circumstances and the detail of the terms of the alleged loan. This is when documentation can be helpful.

How can we help?

If you are concerned over what might happen to your family gift or loan when you separate, or if you want to ensure protection over a gift or loan before it is made, then please contact one of our expert family lawyers who can advise you on the best option to suit your circumstances.

For further information, please contact Connor Williams in the family law team on: 01604 622101 or email

Borneo Martell Turner Coulston has offices in both Northampton and Kettering.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.