Re S (Parental Alienation: Cult) [2020] EWCA Civ 568

The Court of Appeal allowed an appeal by a father against the dismissal of his application for Lara, an 9 year old girl, to live with him, in circumstances where the trial judge had found that Lara had suffered harm in the context of her mother’s adherence to Universal Medicine, found by the judge to be a cult, and that a process of alienating Lara from her father had begun.

Universal Medicine is a belief system founded in Australia in 1999 by Serge Benhayon with teachings called "The Way of the Livingness" covering every aspect of human activity. Adherents are said to lose the capacity to question or scrutinise what they are taught; anyone who leaves is warned of curses they will suffer and told they will lose all access to healing and salvation.

In 2018 the Supreme Court of New South Wales found that Universal Medicine was a socially harmful cult and Benhayon a sexually predatory charlatan who assaulted female students and had an indecent interest in children as young as ten. (Benhayon v Rockett (No 8) 2019 NSWSC 169.)

What is parental alienation? The Cafcass definition suffices for working purposes: "When a child's resistance/hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent." That manipulation need not be malicious or deliberate. If orders are required, the court can consider a fundamental revision of the child arrangements, which is not a last resort; the judge must consider all the circumstances and choose the right solution, taking a medium to long term view and not according excessive weight to short-term problems.

The court must respond to alienation with exceptional diligence; the situation calls for judicial resolve. It is not necessary to wait for serious or irreparable harm to have occurred before taking action.

These are difficult cases but ones we are experienced at dealing with. The age of the child can be important. If you would like advice about your own position please do contact Rachael Oakes on 07972 753265.