ST. GEORGE – What is being called a landmark custody case isn’t over yet for Lorin Holm, a former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, who, in March, won legal custody of his nine minor children from former wives Lynda Peine and Patricia Peine, who are still active polygamists and current members of the FLDS church. Now that the custody issue has been settled, Holm faces potentially paying his ex-wives’ legal fees – to the tune of more than $76,000.
“He has financial needs, and he’s not getting any child support from the mothers,” Holm’s lawyer, Roger Hoole, said. “He’s bearing 100 percent of the responsibility for the children and now they want him to bear more than 100 percent of the responsibility.”
Payment for Holm’s former wives’ legal fees is being sought under Utah code 30-3-3, paragraph 1, which states that in a child custody case, the court may order one party to pay the other party’s legal fees if there is a financial need, regardless of who wins the case.
Hoole said the statute is wise legislation and makes sense in many cases, to ensure there is no inequality when an impoverished spouse and a wealthy spouse are engaged in a custody battle. But in Holm’s case, he said, not only would the statute be unjustly applied – Holm’s wives had good legal counsel throughout the case, he said, and demonstrated no financial need prior to the ruling – but enforcement of the statute would place a burden on other ex-polygamous fathers; men who, like Holm, have been ejected from the FLDS community and would like to attempt to gain custody of their children.
“Even if they win, if they have to pay the other side’s fees and they don’t have any money to start with, it puts a huge, chilling effect on their ability to protect their children – and their children need protection,” Hoole said. “It’s very difficult for them to access the courts; it’s expensive, and if they have to risk paying the other side’s bills even if they win, it’s just going to be untenable for them.”
“It’s an important issue for a lot of people who have been forced out or left the FLDS group,” Hoole said.
Six former FLDS men who have watched Holm’s court case with interest were pleased when he won the custody case, Hoole said. The men have filed declarations with the court on Holm’s behalf in an effort to show that Holm’s former wives, and others still living within the FLDS community, have the ability, through the church, to pay their own legal fees.
“When fathers are expelled from FLDS families,” a memorandum filed on Holm’s behalf said, “FLDS Church leaders control every aspect of the families’ life – including how they engage with courts, which lawyers are used and how the lawyers are paid.”
“In our view, the church controls litigation involving its members,” Hoole said, “and since its members give everything to the church, basically, it takes care of the legal bills.”
The men who filed declarations in support of Holm are Charles Spencer Johnson Sr., John Willis Barlow, Milton Otto Holm, Garth Spencer Warner, Harold Holm and Dan Timpson. Like Lorin Holm, the men were each told to leave the FLDS community and their families to “repent from a distance” and have been severed from their families and the church ever since. Though some of the men’s children are now grown, others still have minor children living within the FLDS community and are hopeful, in view of Holm’s court victory, that they may also be able to win custody of their kids.
“These are men who have given everything they own to the church and they got pushed away, thrown out,” Hoole said.
Hundreds of other FLDS members have been similarly ejected from the community and severed from their families, according to statements filed by the six men. The apostate church members are told to repent of their sins before they can return – sins that are often unspecified.
“They’re sent away, they’re told to write letters of repentance and they just beat themselves up writing anything and everything they can possibly think of,” Hoole said. “In the meantime, their families are poisoned against them. You know, it’s just happened to hundreds of them.”
Currently, the most commonly stated reason men are being sent away is for killing unborn children, Hoole said. He said he doesn’t know if that relates to FLDS members using birth control or exactly what it refers to.
“Nobody really knows what that means,” Hoole said. “These men have no idea what that means.”
The conclusion of Holm’s three-year-long custody case was the last ruling handed down by Judge James Shumate, who recently retired. The legal fee payment matter is being handled by Judge G. Michael Westfall and hasn’t been submitted for a decision yet. Ultimately, the attorneys fees issue will come down to a ruling and, possibly, an appeal.
In the meantime, though Holm has physical custody of his children now, Hoole said getting them back mentally and emotionally will be a longer process.
“They’re coming around slowly,” he said.
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