Child-Custody Deal Favors Escapee of Notorious Cult 'The Family'

Orange County Weekly/March 16, 2009

In May of 2007, the Weekly published "Spare the Child: Amy Bril Wants to Make Sure Her Kids Don't Grow Up Like She Did-Inside the Notorious Cult Known as The Family" by former staff writer Derek Olson. The story centered on a custody battle between Amy Bril and her former husband Nathanael Bril over their three children, then ages 13, 10 and 8. At the time, the mother had no job, no lawyer and barely enough money for frequent trips to an Orange courthouse in hopes of gaining sole legal and physical custody of the kids. She feared if she did not fight for her children she would never see them again due to threats from the historically perverse cult known as The Children of God, a.k.a. The Family International, which she grew up in and to which Nathanael pledged his life.

After reading the story in the Weekly, lawyers in the the Irvine office of Dorsey & Whitney LLP took Amy Bril's case pro bono in June 2007. They now want our readers - and the world - to know the matter has been resolved in their client's favor after more than 1 1/2 years in the courts.

"Needless to say, this is a great success for the client," says Jeanne Beach of Los Angeles-based Weber Shandwick, Dorsey & Whitney's Los Angeles-based public-relations firm.

Amy and Nathanael were both born into The Children of God, which was founded by David Berg in Huntington Beach in 1968 as an offshoot of the Jesus Movement. Members lived in communes, crammed Bible scriptures and engaged in street preaching. But it disbanded in 1978 amid allegations of serious misconduct, financial mismanagement and abuses of power by leaders.

It re-formed as the Family of Love that same year, expanding into more countries, proselytizing door to door and conducting classes on various aspects of Christian life. But the practice of "flirty fishing," where female members would demonstrate God's love by engaging in sex acts with potential converts, led to court actions, prostitution charges (later dismissed) and eventual abandonment in the age of AIDS.

The cult became known as just The Family in 1982 and internal statistics showed membership and pages of printed literature soared. But Berg was forced to admonish his own writings condoning sex between adult and child members when cult leaders were confronted with sex-abuse allegations all over the world.

Following Berg's death in October 1994, Karen "Mama Maria" Zerby took over leadership of the cult and ushered in a charter that allowed members greater freedom to choose and follow their own pursuits. But Zerby also penned the "Loving Jesus revelation" that told members as young as 12, but generally age 14, that Jesus wanted to engage in a sexual relationship with them.

In 2004, the cult became known as The Family International and major internal changes were instituted. They peg membership at more than 11,200 members in over 100 countries, from South America to Thailand. It is estimated 35,000 have passed through the cult.

Several years ago, Amy and Nathanael separated. She left the cult in 2002 and entered mainstream society, but he continued to live in an Anaheim commune with the children - who are now 15, 12, and 10 - whom they successfully co-parented for several years. However, in early 2007, Amy Bril began speaking out in the national media about the horrendous abuse that she and many others had suffered as children growing up in the cult. She especially singled out the cruel, sadistic leaders and their cohorts. In retaliation - and likely at the urging of cruel, sadistic leaders - Nathanael cut Amy off from the children almost completely. Around the same time, she says, she received reports that her children were being abused and threatened by other cult members at the Anaheim communal home.

Immediately upon taking the case, Dorsey & Whitney requested and obtained temporary orders giving Amy Bril full custody of all three children, with monitored visitation for Nathanael. The family court ordered a full custody evaluation to be conducted on Nathanael's dime. After a four-month examination, extensive written discovery, several lay- and expert-witness depositions, discovery motions resulting in sanctions against Nathanael and his attorney, numerous ex parte applications for interim relief on various issues (such as enrolling the children in school), a nine-day pre-trial evidentiary hearing, and several rounds of settlement negotiations, a 10-day trial was set for October 2008.

On the eve of trial, Nathanael offered to settle for full custody of all three children going to Amy, which she accepted before directing her Dorsey & Whitney representatives to negotiate a detailed, custodial arrangement. She allowed Nathanael to see his children in exchange for taking more responsibility when it comes to time and money needed for shared child-rearing.

Her lawyers were quick to point out the pact incorporates safeguards to protect the children, probably more from the twisted cult than Nathanael.

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