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Father Issues Petition to Family Court to Rescue Daughter from Cult

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A father whose daughter had been ‘brainwashed’ by the Universal Medicine cult used court proceedings to save her.

Universal Medicine was originally founded in Australia in 1984 by bankrupt Tennis Coach Serge Benhayon. The cult claims they focus on healing and wellness by getting rid of what they describe as “pranic” energy.

In 2018, a civil court in New South Wales ruled the cult harmful and dangerous, particularly with their teachings and Benhayon’s indecent interest in children and sexually manipulation of cult members.

There are 2,000 suspected cults active in the UK, with many of these cults recruiting young people, particularly university students. The Lighthouse, situated in Frome, Somerset, is the UK’s base for Universal Medicine.

Many people claim they have lost family members to the cult. One, in particular, being Graham (name changed by the BBC for safety reasons), whose daughter was introduced to the cult from a young age by her mother.

Graham explained, "She'd say I needed to stir (pancakes) anti-clockwise… and if I don't I could die a miserable death.

"Even more shocking, she'd say that eating gluten and soya yoghurt, even, would make a hole in her tummy and she couldn't have babies."

Alongside the bizarre teachings, Graham expressed how his daughter started to see Benhayon as a father figure: "I started realising that she was seeing Serge as the father figure and not me… that was just cutting and it went straight to my heart,"

Eventually with the concern she was being harmed by the cult, Graham used court proceedings to remove her, as reported by the BBC.

The court initially ruled Lara's mum needed to distance herself from the cult for the sake of her daughter, or lose care of her.

But she was unable to do so and in July 2020 the court ordered Lara live with Graham and have limited contact with her mother.

What actions can parents take to protect their children?

Where a parent is concerned about their children’s welfare, and the actions of the other parent, there are various potential options which could be explored.

These include:

  • Child arrangement order
  • Prohibited steps order
  • Specific issue order
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution

What is a child arrangement order?

Child arrangement orders are most usually actioned upon the separation or divorce of parents where there needs to be a decision over where and who the child will live with going forward.  

What a child arrangement order does is sets out who is responsible for the everyday care of the child. This will decide who they are living with and the amount of contact or visitation each parent will have with the child. The arrangement order will last until they are 18 years of age.

What is a prohibited steps order?

Any person who has parental responsibility for a child can apply for a prohibited steps order. What a prohibited steps order does is prohibit another party from exercising their parental responsibility and preventing certain actions involving the child in question.

The most common reasons as to why a prohibited steps order is filed by a parent or guardian include:

  • To prevent removing the child from school
  • To prevent changing the child’s surname
  • To prevent removing the child from the country
  • To prevent the child from relocating to another part of the country
  • To prevent certain religious upbringing
  • To prevent certain medical treatment

A prohibited steps order, in most instances, can only be applied for if the child is under 16 years of age.

How long does a prohibited steps order last?

How long a prohibited steps order lasts for will completely depend on the factors that surround it. For example, if the order is to prevent the child from being taken out of their school, it will last until their education at that establishment is completed.

What is a specific issue order?

A specific issue order is similar to a prohibited steps order. However, instead of it prohibiting specific actions, it is permitting a parent/guardian with parental responsibility to do something without the other parent’s permission.

Common examples of when a specific issue order can be applied include:

  • The changing of the child’s name
  • Whether the child can receive medical treatment
  • How the child is religiously brought up
  • Decisions on where the child should attend school
  • Whether the child can go abroad

How long does a specific issue order last?

A specific issue order will end once the child in question has turned 16 years of age. Where a specific issue order needs to be extended, this will apply till they turn 18 years of age.

Can issues be resolved without court proceedings?

Yes, an issue doesn’t necessarily need to be dealt with in court. In most instances, courts want to see that alternative dispute resolution (ADR) has been attempted before taking it to court. This can be done by using ADR methods such as independent negotiation or mediation, although these methods are not legally binding, unlike a court order would be.

Where a child might be at risk, ADR may not be the appropriate solution.

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