Child custody and visitation rights are a painful and complex aspect of divorce. But it becomes all the more stressful when one of the parents is an ex-follower of The Way International (TWI), while the other remains in TWI. Not only does TWI continue to harm the children while they are in the custody of the Wayer parent, but the group also causes more conflict between the ex-spouses than there would be if TWI was not involved.

This article briefly describes some of the ways in which exposure to TWI harms the children and can help the ex-Way parent, family court professionals, the courts, counselors and friends to better understand some of the issues involved.

Why are there so many divorces and custody fights between Wayers and their former spouses? One important factor is TWI's current practice of "purge, mark and avoid" (which are TWI terms).

The Way International (TWI) has taken great pains to "purge" its ranks of those who do not give Way leadership their complete allegiance and obedience. Leaders "confront" followers who leaders consider to be weak, not doing enough, or in error, which often includes persuasion and even verbal abuse. This aggressive confrontation has been strongly promoted in leader training, Sunday services and The Way Magazine, which are distributed to all of its followers.

However, when followers do not immediately obey leaders and respond to every one of their demands, leaders "mark and avoid" them. In other words, leaders tell them to stay away from all Way activities, and tell all "faithful" followers to have nothing to do with them-- not even to speak to them.

"Mark and avoid" often causes divorces and divides families. A spouse or parent are driven by TWI to choose between the group and the family. They are told to force their families to be active, faithful followers of TWI, or to distance them selves from them, which commonly includes separation or divorce. Many of them consciously choose to side with TWI at the cost of their marriage and family life. As a result, one "ex-" stays in TWI while the other is repulsed by the error in TWI, the manipulation and the spiritual and emotional damage TWI causes, and leaves the group.

So when divorces occur, there is extra conflict between the ex-spouses and the divided families, which increase the stresses and problems of child custody and visitation. These are especially hard on spouse who is no longer in TWI.

Ex-Wayers are concerned for their children who are still under the influence of their Way spouses. Some of these concerns include:

1. Medical and health needs

2. Financial and material needs.

3. Mind control

4. Poisoning the relationship between the ex-Wayer and his or her children

Here we will summarize the concerns. Refer to the accompanying articles (letters) for more details and documentation. We can also send or fax copies of these letters on our letterhead, if you would like to show this to a counselor, psychologist, lawyer, judge or other authority related to your custody case as an informed source which can verify your concerns.

1. "Will my children get timely and effective medical treatment?"

While TWI does not explicitly forbid followers to get medical attention, there is evidence that it hinders followers from doing so. TWI teaches that medical problems, accidents and other troubles are a direct result of the followers' negative believing or disobedience of leadership. TWI also teaches that followers should be able to overcome illnesses and injuries by believing they will be well (just as they cause their illnesses by believing they will happen, they can cure them by believing they will be well). Therefore, even admitting illness is a form of spiritual weakness in their view, and leadership and peers enforce these ideas. As a result of all these factors, children may not receive timely medical treatment when in the care of parents who are still followers of TWI.

2. "Will my children's needs for financial support and comfortable home be sacrificed so that their parent who is still in TWI can give inordinate amounts of money to TWI?"

Three key teachings in TWI now are "get out of debt," "get your needs and wants parallel" and "plurality giving." In a nutshell, this means selling their homes, living on as little as possible, changing occupations and homes (which often result in poorer income and housing) and giving as much money as they can to TWI. This may result in children's present needs and future situation being compromised.

3. "Will my children be so subject to mind control in TWI that they will be virtually unable to direct their own lives?"

Anyone who closely views the life of a Wayer is amazed and shocked by one thing: Way leadership controls every aspect of their followers' lives, from the smallest to the largest. Leadership tells followers who to date, who to marry (and not marry), how to spend their time and money, when to sell their house, where to live, how to discipline their children, and the list goes on. Leaders control their followers mainly through fear. Leadership convinces followers that if they do not obey on every point, the followers will: 1) be "confronted," which amounts to severe and sustained verbal attack and abuse; 2) terrible things will happen to them, like accidents, illness or death; 3) Way leaders will convince all other Wayers to "mark and avoid" them-- that is, to avoid all contacts with them, even if they are spouses or immediate family. Many characteristics of TWI are typical of mind control cults. Since children are especially vulnerable, non-Way parents are concerned that their children will be dominated and controlled by uncaring Way leadership (which will be reinforced by the parent who remains in TWI), and have little or no personal freedom.

4. "Will TWI poison my children's minds in such a way that they reject and fear me?"

The parent who is a Wayer considers the ex-spouse to be spiritually in error, stuck in "negative believing," a tool of the devil to oppose TWI, and probably "possessed by devil spirits." The Wayer often tells the children to be wary of, resist, not obey or avoid the ex-Way parent. When children are with the Way spouse, they are compelled to attend Way meetings several nights a week and take classes which further indoctrinate them in TWI. Way teachers typically verbally attack anyone who is not in TWI, so as children accept these teachings, they tend to turn against parents and family members who are not in TWI.

While there are other ways that TWI continues to harm children, adults and families, these stand out as significant issues among separated or divorced families and are important to consider when making child custody and visitation arrangements.

Some ex-Way parents require that their children do not spend more than two days with the Way parents, so that children can't be compelled to take any Way classes that are held over a period of several days. Others may spell out requirements regarding medical treatment in custody decrees. Sometimes custody decrees may reflect the fact that Way households can be unhealthy places for children.

Anyone who is interested in discussing these concerns or in obtaining more information is welcome to contact us.

Dr. John Juedes, 1998, 7070 Palm, Highland, CA