Should a Mother Lose Custody for Being in a “Dangerous Cult”?
The man and woman met on the Internet, and the woman moved from the U.S. to be with him. They moved in together and when the woman became pregnant, they decided to marry. However, the marriage was short and tumultuous: they married in 2010, had the child in January of 2011, and separated 6 months later. The relationship was punctuated by incidents involving violence and according to the court, both parties had “troubled histories.”
When they separated, the mother fled with the child to California, but was forced to return the child to Canada 8 months later under an Order issued pursuant to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, 1980.
The father applied in Canada for sole custody. (He already had court-ordered temporary custody, having been deemed by the Children’s Aid Society to provide the child with appropriate care pending a final determination).
In support of his application, he claimed among other things that the mother was a member of a dangerous cult in California, called the “Trumpet Call of God.” It was apparently run by a man named Timothy who claimed he was a “Prophet.”
The mother’s activities, according to the father, were not conductive to the child’s best interests. For example, the mother had participated in spreading cult messages by posting leaflets on her apartment window, and by passing them out to the public – and had taken the child with her when doing this leaflet-distribution work. Since the cult also advocated home-schooling, the mother had taken the child out of school in order to adhere to those doctrines. Not only was the mother an active member, according to the father, but she also aspired to become one of the “Prophetesses” of the cult someday.
To support his contention to the court that the mother’s participation in the cult was harmful, the father submitted a report, written by an U.S. authority on cults, which described the activities of the Trumpet Call of God group and identified potential financial and sexual exploitation of members by the cult leader Timothy. The report’s author concluded that the group was a “destructive cult” and a “potentially dangerous group”.
In considering the father’s application for sole custody, the court began by ruling on a procedural issue: the mother had fired her former lawyer and declined to appear at the hearing, but instead sent an e-mail which stated:
I do not wish to withdraw from the trial. I am simply stating that Jesus Christ will be appearing on my behalf and in my defense (sic). This fact will become self-evident in the days to come. Please be advised that my signature is not required as my letter, including a print out of this correspondence should suffice as evidence for the courts should you still feel the need to proceed.
In light of this letter, the court found it appropriate to proceed with the hearing on uncontested basis, in the mother’s absence.
Next, the court considered the merits on custody. Both parents certainly had their strengths and weaknesses: the father had an extensive criminal record (including partner-assaults) and some prior history with Child Protection Services in connection with his other children. Overall, however, the Children’s Aid Society had no concerns about the father’s ability to care for parent the child. Other evidence showed that he was a good father.
The mother, in contrast, had demonstrated a history of transiency, poor partner choices, and minimal stable resources. There was evidence that she had left the child alone on occasions, and that the child sometimes appeared neglected. Despite being only 24 years old, she had had 2 marriages, one common-law relationship, and two children both of whom were the products of unstable relationships. The mother was clearly unable to see past her own needs; according to the court her fleeing to California was one example of her “selfish and childish behavior”. Furthermore, according to her former lawyer, she was currently living in California and receiving state social assistance. To top it off, the evidence of the mother’s involvement with the cult was abundant.
The father was therefore granted sole custody. The mother’s access rights were not formally truncated, but rather were granted on a limited basis with some structure imposed. The court wrote:
44 The Mother was last on social welfare in California, has no record of work of which I am aware, and has no money. She abandoned her right to be at the Trial, and while her faith in Jesus is strong, it is not helpful in determining what is in [the child’s] best interests. If she is to have any access to [the child], it shall be supervised access at a supervised access centre in Toronto, or supervised by one of the Father’s friends and/or relatives. All arrangements shall be made in writing, either between the parties, or through their counsel. Nothing shall be arranged on an ad hoc basis, if the Mother simply arrives in Canada and demands access.
45 In the past, the Mother had access through Skype and by telephone, which can continue to take place with the Father’s assistance on a once per week basis only. In my view, each party has to learn to live in an orderly and organized fashion, hopefully around a work schedule. Access by this method cannot simply take place on a whim of the Mother.
For the full text of the decision, see:
Ali v. Ali, 2012 CarswellOnt 13854; 2012 ONSC 6006 (Ont. S.C.J.)