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Graduation ceremony in the Dunedin Town Hall

Mary FoleyMary Foley
PhD, Law

I spent my last undergraduate year at Otago University in 1996 and very much enjoyed the sense of community and general liveliness that comes from being based in a University town. A decade in private practice followed, during which time I was lucky enough to continue an involvement with the Law Faculty through various research projects and tutoring roles.

In 2007 I took the plunge and embarked upon a PhD, looking at the right of independent adult children to receive testamentary provision from their parents. The main focus of my thesis was a statutory interpretation analysis of New Zealand's Family Protection Act 1955 which, put simply, allows children to apply for provision from a parent's estate.

Many have criticised what they see as a too generous approach to adult children under the Act but none have sought to analyse the judicial approach according to a theory of interpretation. In addition, there is a real gap in the literature when it comes to the philosophical reasons in support of such recognition. My thesis sought to fill these two gaps.

My interest in the topic was sparked by my work in estate litigation and I very much enjoyed the opportunity to explore it further. Otago Law Faculty was the obvious choice, its reputation for collegiality and academic excellence being well founded.

I came into the project with fixed ideas about what I was aiming to find - my legal thinking very much shaped by private practice - but I was soon forced to start thinking much more broadly and critically. My supervisors were excellent, constantly challenging me to question my conclusions and to bring a far greater critical eye to the issues. Looking back at my first drafts, I am amazed to see how much they helped me broaden my outlook and sharpen my critical thinking, one of the main rewards of postgraduate study.

Completing my thesis from a distance, and having a baby in the middle of it, could have created an obstacle to completion but my supervisors could not have been more supportive or accommodating. Their commitment to my thesis was unwavering. With them and the assistance and encouragement of Professor Mark Henaghan, the Law faculty administrative staff and the library staff, I still managed to complete on time. The Remote Student Library service also provide invaluable. I very much enjoyed the PhD process; it is not an easy one but it is rewarding.

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