St. George - A 5th District Court judge extended a custody order Friday that allows a man expelled from a polygamous church to care for his children who, until recently, were living with two of his "spiritual wives" within the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints community and the subject of an acrimonious battle over religious beliefs.
Colorado City resident Lorin Holm won temporary custody of his minor-aged children last month after a court-ordered guardian ad litem appointed to look after the children's interests reported concerns about the children's safety. The concerns were that religious influences may have been working against the father's wishes, as well as reticence on the women's parts to comply with court orders.
The custody order was later amended to return the two youngest children to their mothers because of their difficulty in adapting to the change, but the six school-aged children have continued to live with Holm in a situation that all parties have described as troubled at times.
"This is not a happy outcome. It's a necessary outcome," Holm's attorney, Roger Hoole, said.
"We've had some successes and some failures (during the last six weeks)," guardian Nadine Hansen told Judge James Shumate at Friday's hearing. "The children are more comfortable with their father ... than before. They've been able to do some enjoyable things together.
"The most significant failure, I think, is the problem of school. The grade equivalency tests were not quite (adequate). ... And the children still tell their father sometimes that he's an apostate and that he's a liar."
Attorneys for Holm and his two spiritual wives described the family difficulties as an unfortunate consequence of Holm's own efforts to teach his children to avoid those who were expelled from the family's religious community. But Holm was also expelled in January 2011 and became antagonistic toward the FLDS officials who had issued the edict.
"(Here) you have a father who raised these children to believe a certain way, and they do, and now he doesn't," said Rodney Parker, the attorney for Holm's spiritual wives, Lynda and Patricia Peine. "You have a real serious cultural problem."
Holm won over his first wife, Helen, to whom he is legally married, and the couple moved from Holm's Nevada refuge back into their Colorado City home in mid-2011. The Peine sisters and the children left the house and moved into a family member's home in Hildale.
The two towns straddle the Utah-Arizona state line and have served for generations as a home for FLDS members and other polygamous separatists.
Holm filed the lawsuit in 5th District Court later that year in an effort to gain the legal right to remove his children from the insular FLDS community and teach them about the conviction and imprisonment of FLDS prophet leader Warren Jeffs and other church officials on child sexual abuse charges in Texas.
The court frowned on intervening in the family's religious beliefs, but granted Holm limited visitation rights last year while the children lived at their mothers' home. A dispute over circumcisions for the older boys and a breakdown in communications between all parties led to Holm gaining custody last month.
The court custody order bars Holm from talking to his children about Warren Jeffs and about his religious differences with the FLDS church. The children are barred from having religious interviews outside the presence of a parent, and from having contact with their adult FLDS siblings or half-siblings.
Hansen told Shumate the children initially adapted well to their new surroundings. The four girls enjoyed setting up their rooms while the two boys got to know their half-brothers.
The Peines are allowed visitation three times a week at Holm's house, and Holm is allowed visitation with the two youngest children.
But when some of the children developed pertussis and weren't able to go to school, the other children balked at going to school as well, Hansen said. If the children had remained with their mothers, they would have been homeschooled.
"We've had six weeks now with the children not going to school," Hansen said. "The father would physically get them out of bed, but then they'd get back in bed. ... We need to keep working on that."
The children's sickness also put a stop to court-ordered counseling and therapy they were scheduled to receive, she said.
Parker said the children claim they aren't being fed sufficiently, which Hoole and Hansen disputed, stating the children sometimes choose not to eat. Parker also cited concerns about physical violence, such as Holm shaking a teenaged daughter who didn't answer a telephone.
But the court's primary preoccupation was with reports that most of the children are lagging behind educational expectations for their ages, as well as a report that the Peines were delivering medications to one of the girls to administer to the other children and communicating with the oldest son via cellphone.
Shumate ordered that the son's cellphone be taken away, adding that it could be given to one of the women who has not had contact with Holm for the last two years. He also ordered that the children see a physician, that Holm take responsibility for filling any medical prescriptions, and that the well children attend school.
Those who don't go to school can be put into detention, he said.
Shumate also suggested that if the children refuse to eat, they not be granted snacks or the opportunity to eat between meals, in an effort to support the parents.
"That's tough love, and they can blame me," he said. "That's why I wear the black robe."
A new review of the case is scheduled for March.