When you decide to separate from your spouse, financial concerns can add to the stress of the situation. Especially when one spouse has been the homemaker and the other the primary earner.

Courts dealing with family law matters are often the arena for complex and emotionally charged disputes concerning parental responsibility and care of children. In the recent case of Mulroney & Mulroney (No 2) [2023], the Court grappled with the self-represented mother's appeal against final parenting orders that granted the father sole parental responsibility for their two children. 

The appeal was particularly challenging because the mother chose to represent herself, as is the case for many litigants in family law matters. Self-representation in family law matters may appear to be cost effective, but has several disadvantages. These cases are often emotionally charged, making it challenging for individuals to objectively assess the strength and weaknesses of their case, and evaluate the evidence to support their case. 

In family law, especially in parenting matters, the Court has wide discretion to make orders that they consider to be in the best interests of the children involved. Therefore, it is difficult to predict with certainty what the outcome of the case will be and what orders the judge will consider as appropriate, in the children’s best interests. This discretionary nature of family law makes it difficult to successfully appeal a decision, especially if the initial case was not properly prepared. 

Parenting matters typically involve a substantial amount of evidence, which can be complex to interpret for those without legal training. In cases that go to a contested hearing, cross-examining witnesses and presenting legal arguments become essential, tasks that can be daunting for self-represented individuals. 

Engaging an experienced family lawyer ensures a professional presentation of your case and increases the chances of the Court making orders in your favour. Family lawyers possess a comprehensive understanding of parenting matter principles, court procedures, and evidence law principles, allowing them to present your case effectively to enhance your likelihood of success.

The matter of Mulroney and Mulroney ... and appeal

The case revolved around a couple, referred to as Ms. Mulroney and Mr. Mulroney, who separated in September 2017. The couple had two children, born in 2010 and 2014, and had lived in various locations, including Australia and overseas, during their relationship. Following their separation, the children primarily resided with their father in Region D of New South Wales.

Legal proceedings were initiated by the father in April 2019, leading to several interim orders and the final orders for the children to live with the father and spend time with the mother. The mother appealed from final orders for the children to live with the father and spend time with the mother.

The mother in her appeal disputed several aspects of the primary judge's decision. The grounds of the mother's appeal were multifaceted and spanned multiple pages. She claimed apprehended bias and procedural unfairness, arguing that the primary judge had shown a bias against her and had not afforded her a fair opportunity to present her case.

One of the central arguments in the mother's appeal was that the primary judge had failed to consider specific provisions of the Family Law Act, such as sections 60B, 60CC, 60CG, 61C, and 65DAA. The appeal was dismissed as the Court found that the primary judge correctly identified the legal principles governing the dispute and the mother could not explain why the judge’s findings where wrong.

An experienced family law lawyer would have the expertise to interpret the relevant legal provisions accurately, gather and tender useful evidence, apply them to the case, and convincingly argue to advance the mother’s position.

Factual findings and why it is important to hire a professional family lawyer

Legal representation also plays a vital role in addressing factual findings. In this case, the mother's appeal critiqued various factual findings made by the primary judge. Disagreement with findings or the weight given to evidence is common in family law cases. However, legal professionals can evaluate whether these disagreements constitute valid grounds for appeal, ensuring that any challenge to factual findings is well-grounded in the law.

In the end, the Court dismissed the mother's appeal, emphasising that it lacked merit and should not have been brought. The Court also ordered the mother to pay the father and paternal grandparents' costs, with the father's costs being fixed at a reduced amount, due to disproportionality.

The case illustrates the dangers of representing yourself and benefits that emerge when you hire a professional family lawyer, when navigating complex family law matters. Legal representation not only ensures that legal procedures are followed, but also offers a clear understanding of the law and how it applies to the case. In this case, the absence of legal representation likely had negative consequences for the mother's appeal, emphasising the invaluable role that family lawyers play in advocating for their clients' rights and interests in family law matters.

New South Lawyers’ communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. To that end, people should not rely on this communication as legal advice. Accordingly, they should seek formal legal advice for matters of interest arising from this communication.

To find out more, chat with a member of the New South Lawyers Family Law Team today.