Do you remember Mandy Gray? She last made the news headlines back in 2017 after divorcing her husband and emerging from the financial remedy proceedings with half of her by then ex-husband’s 225 million dollar fortune. She had already hauled up at that point with a chap called Hamish Hurley, her erstwhile personal coach and therapist. The two then embarked on a lavish lifestyle, funded by Ms Gray, which included travelling the world, and acquiring a fleet of supercars, a property in Italy, and a farm in New Zealand, amongst other investments and expenditure amounting in a few short years to tens of millions of pounds. Many of these assets were registered in Mr Hurley’s name or in the couple’s joint names.

TEXT: GREGOR KLEINKNECHT | PHOTO © PEXELS & GREGOR KLEINKNECHT

Ms Gray is now back in the news after being back in court to sue her former lover for the return of these assets, having terminated the relationship and accused him of undue influence, and of being emotionally abusive and the archetypal gold-digger par excellence. A sign of the times, Ms Gray served the claim form in the proceedings on Mr Hurley by WhatsApp message, which the English court considered to constitute valid service. The need for process to be served in this way arose because Mr Hurley had in the meantime retreated to his native New Zealand, where he had himself commenced legal proceedings, arguing that the various transactions constituted gifts from Ms Gray to him and that they were his to keep. The couple had not married and the attraction of proceedings in New Zealand (from Mr Hurley’s perspective) becomes apparent when you note that the law of New Zealand contains rules allowing assets to be awarded to parties who have been in an unmarried relationship. English law contains no such rule (contrary to the surprisingly common but still misplaced belief that there is such a thing as a ’common law marriage’ which grants unmarried couples property and financial rights on separation) so, equally unsurprisingly, Ms Gray was much preferring to have her case heard in the English courts.

The jurisdictional battle as to which court has jurisdiction to determine these questions for now went in Ms Gray’s favour, including as to the question of whether Mr Hurley holds the Italian villa on trust for Ms Gray. It looks like much expensive litigation is yet to follow until the court has poured over emails, social media messages (apparently some 40,000 had been exchanged between the couple in happier days) and the recollection of private conversations to determine what Ms Gray intended when this asset or that was registered in Mr Hurley’s or in their joint names.

There are probably a few lessons to be learned, albeit expensive ones, beyond the old saying of ’don’t spend it all at once’: if you do receive expensive gifts, please make sure that there is a record of them being intended to be just that; by contrast, if you register expensive assets in another person’s name, and you do not intend them to be gifts, but to be held on trust, please ensure that there is a legal instrument recording that understanding between both parties.

While this case may at first glance appear to be at best tangentially relevant to “normal” people, similar issues can arise very quickly in everyday life: for example, when a partner in an unmarried relationship acquires from his or her assets a family home which is registered in the couple’s joint names, or when the parents of one party in an unmarried relationship make a substantial financial contribution to the acquisition of a home in the young couple’s joint names. Please remember this column and ask a lawyer to produce a valid and binding legal document which sets out the parameters of the funding arrangement and ownership position when you get there, just in case things don’t go as planned.

Gregor Kleinknecht LLM MCIArb is a German Rechtsanwalt and English solicitor, and a partner at Hunters, a leading law firm in Central London. Hunters Law LLP, 9 New Square, Lincoln’s Inn, London WC2A 3QN.

E-mail: gregor.kleinknecht@hunterslaw.com

Web: www.hunterslaw.com

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Scan Magazine Ltd.’