Parental alienation – part two: UK mother loses custody after Court rules to protect child from Universal Medicine cult

Lara-1-1In April the UK Court of Appeal ruled to protect a nine year old child from the harmful effects of Universal Medicine, which include alienation from her father. It ordered the girl’s UM follower mother to break from the cult in order to retain shared care. The Appeals court referred the case to the Family Court Division of the High Court to rule this month on whether the mother had taken the necessary steps to do so. In a decision handed down last week the Family Court ruled that the child should live full time with her father and have extremely limited contact with her mother for the time being.

Irish Examiner report: Mother loses custody of daughter after failing to leave cult 

Daily Mail report: Father’s five year battle to save daughter from cult

The case in short

Proceedings to protect the child, ‘Lara’* from Universal Medicine commenced in 2015. In 2017, the Family Court ruled that the mother must explicitly avoid exposing the child to any aspect of or engagement with UM if she wished to continue shared custody. The mother failed to do so and the child’s health and wellbeing were further damaged by Universal Medicine’s influence.

Early 2019, the girl’s father sought a new order for full-time custody. The court heard evidence of UM’s activities and considered the Supreme Court of NSW’s findings in Benhayon v Rockett and evidence used at that trial that substantiated UM’s risks to the public, including children. In short, Benhayon was found to be an exploitative charlatan and a predator with an indecent interest in juvenile girls.

The Family Court judge made his decision early 2020, ruling that UM is a sinister and harmful cult, that the influence of UM is harmful to the child, and that she is at risk of developing an eating disorder caused by the Esoteric diet. Most importantly, the judge found that the mother had effectively alienated the father from his daughter by instilling the girl with beliefs that undermined the dad’s role as a parent. The child had been indoctrinated to believe that innocuous aspects of the father’s lifestyle, such as eating wheat and dairy, would cause him to become ill or die, that Serge Benhayon is ‘love’ but her father is not, and that Benhayon knows everything. She had also been taught neurotic rituals based on clockwise movements.

The judge, however, did not transfer care to the father, or did not make any orders that would ensure that the mother complied with the conditions for shared care arrangements — to protect the child from any exposure to UM. The mother subsequently refused to acknowledge UM’s harms and continued to blame the child’s growing distress on the father, despite the court’s findings that the mother’s involvement in UM was the problem. The father took an appeal to the High Court, where three senior justices examined the history of the proceedings and all of the evidence.

On 29 April 2020, the High Court Justices ruled that the Family Court judge had been in error in dismissing the father’s application for full-time care and had not properly weighed the harm to the child that would result from the failure to modify parenting arrangements. He therefore erred in not issuing orders that adequately protected Lara. However, the Appeals Court ruled to allow the mother one last chance to break from Universal Medicine and referred the final decision to the President of the Family Court, with a recommendation that if the mother did not make a satisfactory break from UM by July and take steps to reverse Lara’s alienation from the father, the shared care arrangement would be terminated, and care would be transferred to the dad.

On 15 July 2020, Justice Williams of the Family Court division of the High Court ordered the transfer of care to the father, and prohibited direct or indirect contact between the mother and Lara until the end of the summer vacation. The judge found that the mother’s efforts to break from UM were superficial and that she had taken no meaningful steps to address or reverse the child’s alienation from her father.

An outline of the July judgment

I recommend reading my previous post on the April Court of Appeal ruling.  It tells a sad story of  UM’s corrosive effects, not only on a child, but on a couple of loving parents, one desperate to protect his daughter, and the other blinded by her irrational allegiance to a dangerous organization and its disreputable leader.

This most recent July judgment reveals the mother’s response to courts’ decisions and the process that led to her losing custody of her daughter as Lara’s attitude toward her father deteriorated.

Considerations prior to the July hearing

Paragraph two states that the mother sought to adjourn the hearing for six weeks on the basis that her barrister was unwell and unable to appear. Justice Williams ruled that it was not in the interests of Lara and her father to delay proceedings further, and that there was no reason the mother would not receive a fair hearing notwithstanding that she would have to represent herself in the court.

From paragraphs [3] – [8] the judge examines the reasons that the Court of Appeal made the earlier ruling and referred the final judgment to the Family Court. At para [4] he summarizes the task ahead of him, which was to determine whether the mother had made sufficient effort to remove herself from UM and reverse its effects on Lara.

From paras [8] – [14], Justice Williams looks at the original Family Court findings that the UM influence was harmful, and the decision by that judge not to transfer care to the father because the mother had indicated a willingness to do ‘whatever it takes’ to keep shared care of Lara.

Persistent resistance — the mother’s reaction to earlier rulings

At [15], the judge examined the mother’s actions following the original Family Court decision in January. She had attempted to cross-appeal against the father, in effect doubling down and refusing to accept that any harm had been done. She continued to assert that the court was infringing her right to freedom of belief. (The Appeals Court had found that her rights to belief did not grant her the right to harm her child.) The mother’s repeated insinuations at the appeal hearing of sexual impropriety against the father did not help her case and were rejected by the court.

[24] and [25] detail the mother’s response to the Court of Appeal ruling against her in April. She immediately sought permission to appeal on the grounds that she continued to deny there was any alienation of the father and to deny the conflicts were related to UM. Her actions indicated that she did not accept any court findings about UM — not the Australian court’s findings in Benhayon v Rockett, or those of the Family or Appeals Courts in the UK.

Each parents’ requests to the court

From [26] to [29], the judge sets out the positions of the parents at hearing on 9 and 10 July 2020. The father continued to seek a full time care arrangement on the basis that his daughter had become further alienated from him and that full custody would be the only way to ensure a continued relationship with both parents.

The mother sought to keep the current arrangement of shared care claiming that she had made the break from UM, had no contact with UM people, that Lara’s relationship with her father had improved, and her psychotherapist could provide support to mother and daughter. She maintained she’d been badly treated by the court, her civil rights were being violated and that her cross examination by the father’s lawyer amounted to bullying.

Evidence at the July hearing

The father’s evidence

The father’s evidence outlined from [30] was that the alienation was worse, his daughter behaved resentfully toward him and still exhibited behaviour consistent with UM beliefs. He was frustrated and distressed, and told the court that the current shared care arrangement was harming his relationship with Lara and he was running out of options for resolving the situation.

The mother’s evidence

The judge outlined the mother’s evidence from [35] and described her as emotionally distressed and occasionally frantic.

It was clear from the mother’s evidence, but it is hardly a surprise, that the child is the centre of her existence and that she would do almost anything for her. I say almost anything because the effect of the mother’s evidence was to demonstrate quite clearly that there are limits when it comes to Universal Medicine.

Despite the mother’s insistence that she’d dissociated herself from UM and its followers that ‘did not extend to dissociation with the beliefs or practices of Universal Medicine and nor did it extend to acceptance of criticism of the organisation or Serge Benhayon.’ [37]

The judge found the mother was evasive in her answers, could not articulate the substance of the courts’ findings on UM’s harms, and had not acknowledged the harm that had been caused to Lara. She was also unable to identify any mistakes on her own part.

She appeared unable or unwilling to grapple with the notion of having to explain to the child that for the last eight years they have been following an organisation and leading their lives in a way that was fundamentally at odds with societal norms and which had harmed the child. [38]

According to the mother’s witness statement she had not had any bad experience of UM and had never witnessed anything bad or that would damage the child’s emotional and physical welfare. The judge found that to be at odds with the findings by the previous Family Court judge and upheld by the Court of Appeal.

She says that Universal Medicine has had a negative effect on the child not because of anything that “I have done to her or exposed her to but because it caused the relationship between [the father] and I to deteriorate”. [40]

The mother continued to insist that the father was trying to control her. At a meeting with the independent social worker and the father in June, the mother repeated her insinuation that the father had been sexually inappropriate with Lara, despite such inferences being rejected by the courts.

At [43] Justice Williams writes:

Whilst I’m prepared to accept that she is at the moment dissociated from Universal Medicine and that she would maintain that physical dissociation whilst the threat of separation from her daughter hangs over her that is a far remove from the full-hearted and definitive break which entirely distances the child from Universal Medicine and which reverses the process of alienation. Whilst the mother has undergone some therapy its utility is limited when it has not expressly addressed the harm that has been caused to this child as a result of the mother’s involvement with Universal Medicine.

The judge acknowledged that the mother has many good qualities as a parent but those ‘exist in the shadow of the significant limitation on her capability as a parent arising from her adherence to UM.’ [44]

The independent social worker and the mother’s psychotherapist

At [47] the independent social worker recommended transfer of care to the father because ‘the end of the road had been reached’, and that while considerable short-term distress would be caused as a result of moving from the mother’s care to the father, Lara’s medium to long term welfare required it. She said that if it did not happen, ‘the child’s relationship with the father would ultimately be terminated as a result of the child’s developing alienation and eventual rejection of the father.’

The judge also considered reports from the mother’s psychotherapist, who concluded that the mother had effectively dissociated from UM. His Honour decided that the therapist had not adequately challenged the mother’s assertions and therefore his reports carried little weight. [58]

Justice Williams’ conclusions

The balance of harm is one of the most significant components of the ultimate welfare determination. [62]

At [62] the judge assesses the potential of further harm to the child in future resulting from the possible termination of the relationship with her father and the damage of further exposure to UM teachings and practices versus separation from her mother and the risk of Lara running away to be with her mother.

He considered the child’s wish to remain in the care of her mother and decided that Lara’s views ‘are distorted by the prism of alienation… the subjective result of exposure to harmful beliefs and practices which have led to her alienation from her father and her enmeshment with her mother.’ [63]

How can this little girl begin to repair her relationship with her father and to reattach with him when her mother has done nothing to even begin the process of dis-abusing the child of the erroneous and malign beliefs that she has grown up to believe are “the way of livingness”? How can this child begin to move closer to her father when she still believes he lives outside “love”? [64]

Justice Williams added

I am conscious given what has been said by various judges and others before me that anything I say may gain little traction in the mother’s thinking. For what it is worth I would emphasise that until the mother is able to free herself from the psychological bonds that tie her to Universal Medicine and its harmful teachings and beliefs, the possibility of her playing anything like a full role in the child’s life is extremely limited. If the scales truly fall from her eyes and she is able to not only physically separate herself from Universal Medicine but also to psychologically disentangle herself and to re-establish her psychological independence, then she has much to offer her child and may then be able to resume a more significant role. Establishing that psychological disentanglement and independence would, almost certainly, as a corollary reduce – albeit perhaps not eliminate – conflict with the father over the child.’ [66]

The judge ordered that Lara be transferred to the care of her father. A postscript indicates that the child apparently escaped to be with her mother after the hearing. The mother’s lawyer requested that the judge reconsider his ruling. He refused. Justice Williams saw fit to intervene to assist Lara’s understanding.

Given the fact that nothing has yet been said to the child to even begin the process of distancing her from Universal Medicine and the views she has developed I propose to write a short message to her which the father can deliver and which he may be able to fall back on in the event of difficulties with the child and her acceptance of the situation.[70]

My comments

I don’t think any readers who have loved ones among UM’s devotees are surprised by this outcome. We’ve been witnessing UM followers’ unquestioning devotion to Benhayon and their resistance to common sense for years. Justice Jackson wrote in his April judgment that the mother ‘views Universal Medicine as a vital and benign entity. She has not begun to understand the substance of the judge’s findings and the concerns expressed by others. That is how cults work.’

Justice Williams also remarked that he expected it would take some time before the mother became cognisant of UM’s harms.

Again, I have nothing but admiration for this father’s commitment. Lara is not yet able to understand that he’s done his best to prevent her from becoming, like her mother, a hostage to UM’s psychological hold. This case illustrates the power of cultic manipulations, that an otherwise competent mother can lose the capacity to recognize or acknowledge harm done to her own child. This is why authorities must do better at identifying the harms of cults and taking decisive action to protect the vulnerable. Many many more children raised in UM and other cult environments are at similar or worse risk. This father’s efforts have at least set a precedent for future cases.


The Family Court has given leave for a version of the judgment to be published on condition that the anonymity of the child and members of their family must be strictly preserved. All persons must strictly comply. Failure to do so will be a contempt of court.


15 July 2020 High Court (Family Division) ruling S | (Parental Alienation: Cult: Transfer of Primary Care), Re [2020] EWHC 1940 (Fam)

29 April 2020 Court of Appeal ruling S | (Parental Alienation: Cult), Re [2020] EWCA Civ 568

Irish Examiner report: Mother loses custody of daughter after failing to leave cult 

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