Girl faces 'ongoing harm’ from Universal Medicine influence
A MOTHER has been asked to end her associations with a Northern NSW-based "cult" or risk losing custody of her daughter.
The 9-year-old girl, named in the judgment under the pseudonym Lara, was to spend equal time with each of her parents under a previous court order.
But the England and Wales Court of Appeal has upheld an appeal brought by her father, seeking more measures to distance the girl from Universal Medicine.
The mother became a "student" of UM and its doctrine, The Way of the Livingness, about the time the couple separated in 2012.
The girl was not quite one year old at this time.
Universal Medicine is a "complementary health" business based in Goonellabah, also with a hub known at "The Lighthouse" in the UK town of Somerset, where the mother would visit, sometimes taking her daughter with her.
The business was founded by Serge Benhayon, who a NSW Supreme Court Jury found to be "the leader of a harmful cult" when he unsuccessfully sued blogger Esther Rockett for defamation.
Mr Benhayon had been a bankrupt tennis coach before launching the group in 1999.
That 2018 jury verdict, which also found Mr Benhayon was a "charlatan" and that UM practices "dishonest healing practices", was cited in the family law case.
According to the family law judgment, the mother had not acknowledged the range of concerning matters found by the jury to be true.
The mother engaged in monthly sessions with a "healer" and cut gluten and dairy from her and Lara's diets.
The court heard the girl faced harm both from UM teachings and its "divisive effect" on her parents.
After an earlier hearing, a judge found four sources of harm to Lara's welfare, including the "wide-ranging psychological and physical effects on any young child of Universal Medicine ideas", the "particular emotional harm to this child arising from the parental rift over Universal Medicine", the emotional harm of Lara becoming "alienated from her father" and harm arising from any change in her living arrangements.
The Court of Appeal found the judge "accurately identified" the UM-related harm and "found that they had already caused her some actual harm in relation to her fixed beliefs and her anxious food behaviour".
But they found the judge had made an error in balancing those risks against the others.
They said the "slight measures" he took at the time to mitigate harm were "highly unlikely to be effective" in light of the mother's "heavy involvement" with UM which has spanned eight years and her "continued support for its teachings and leader".
Those measures had included orders for the mother to cease exposing Lara to UM teachings, beliefs and events.
The parents visited Lara's GP together in 2018 and when the father raised concerns about her restricted diet, the doctor "advised that Lara should be told that she is not allergic to gluten or dairy and said that there was a risk that she could develop an eating disorder".
The judge in the original hearing found the NSW Supreme Court verdict was an outcome "no reasonable parent in the mother's position could disregard".
"The mother's unmistakeable position was that she did not accept the judge's findings about Universal Medicine, and that she had no respect for the experienced opinion of Ms Ware," the Court of Appeal decision read.
"The mother's unmistakeable position was that she did not accept the judge's findings about Universal Medicine."
The court heard the mother also had "no respect" for the "experienced opinion" of an independent social worker.
But the Court of Appeal found the original judgment placed too much weight on harm that may arise from being solely in her father's care.
The three Justices found UM is a "pervasive source of ongoing harm to Lara, emotionally and psychologically, and may make her vulnerable to eating disorders".
"Lara must be distanced entirely from Universal Medicine," the judgment read.
"Shared care can therefore only continue if the mother makes an immediate and definitive break with the organisation".
If she does not, the court ruled Lara is to live with her father.
The matter is expected to return to court for a two-day hearing in July.