Judge OKs visitation rights for man married to multiple wives

The Spectrum/June 4, 2002
By Angie Parkinson

St. George -- Fifth District Judge James L. Shumate passed a unique judgment in a unique custody case Monday afternoon.

Rodney Holm, a member of of the religion known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, will be able to bring his children to his Hildale home for visits on a temporary basis.

That was the result of a nearly four-hour hearing in which Holm's attorney and the attorney for his former wife, Ruth Stubbs, volleyed arguments back and forth about who would be the best full-time parent.

The case is unique for many reasons, including the fact that Stubbs and Holm were never legally married. They married in a spiritual ceremony in which she became Holm's third wife. They now have two young children together, and Stubbs is eight months pregnant.

Stubbs fled the marriage and the FLDS lifestyle in December of last year, taking her two small children with her. The custody battle then ensued.

Holm wants the children to be raised in the Hildale area with FLDS values, and Stubbs wants the children to be raised outside of the FLDS religious community.

Throughout Monday's hearing, the question of how to balance religious freedom with the best interest of the children became central to the arguments on both sides.

Holm's attorney, Rodney Parker, argued that issues like religious affiliations and media-driven stereotypes of FLDS home life were not important in deciding whether Holm or Stubbs would make a better full-time parent to their children -- ages 1 and 2.

"The focus today should be on the family and the children," he said.

Parker compared the religious teachings in an FLDS family to teachings in families of other religions. He said some might view the way parents in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints raise their children to go on missions in the same light as some of the FLDS teachings.

He said the spiritual marriage of FLDS women and men has the same importance to them as temple marriage does to members of the LDS faith.

"Parents have a right to raise their children in their belief system," Parker said.

But Stubbs' attorney, Bill Walker, argued that religious teachings do matter in terms of custody in this case because of what behaviors the children may witness based on the FLDS religion.

One example he gave is the teaching to shun those who leave the FLDS religion. FLDS leaders allegedly teach their faithful not to associate with those who leave the church -- which in the case of these children would be their own mother.

Stubbs said she was advised by Rulon Jeffs, regarded as a prophet by followers of the FLDS faith, to marry Holm when she was 16 years old. Holm was 32 at the time of their spiritual marriage. He had two wives already.

They began having sexual relations after their marriage.

Under Utah Code (76-5-401.2) a person 10 years or more the senior of a sexual partner that is 16 or 17 years old is committing unlawful sexual conduct, a third degree felony. Holm, a sworn police officer in both Utah and Arizona, reportedly invoked his Fifth Amendment rights when asked about the alleged crime.

Holm is a sworn police officer in both Utah and Arizona.

Rather than direct testimony from witnesses, the attorneys proffered information to the court. Much of the information presented revolved around abuse. Both sides volleyed numerous accusations of abuse and/or mistreatment of the children by one or the other parent and by Holm's other two wives.

Holm's attorney cited parental evaluations that categorize Stubbs' personality type as unable to put the needs of her children above her own. Parker gave an account of when Stubbs dropped her younger child while in her carseat as a form of punishment.

Stubbs' attorney cited accounts of physical abuses to children in Holm's household by Holm and his other two wives. They also included the account of the killing of two dogs that the Holm's children loved. The animals were killed in response to the alleged advice of an FLDS bishop to get rid of all dogs in the community.

After hours of these allegations, Shumate came to a conclusion in terms of temporary custody arrangements.

As Shumate outlined the custody arrangements, he emphasized that the court is most concerned about what is lawful and what is unlawful, not passing judgement on anyone's religious beliefs.

Stubbs will retain custody of her two children in Phoenix, but Holm will be allowed visitation in Hildale.

Shumate stipulated that Holm must be responsible for transporting the children from Phoenix -- where they have lived with their mother for the last six months -- to Hildale for visits over the next two months.

Stubbs is due to deliver their baby in one month, and for one month after Holm has responsibility over transportation. After that, Stubbs will share in that responsibility.

Under the previous arrangement, Holm had to drive to Arizona to visit his children.

Shumate stipulated that Holm would not be allowed to have sexual relations with his second wife while his children with his third wife are in the home for visits. He may have relations with his first wife, to whom he is legally married.

Utah Code section 76-7-103 states that "a married person commits adultery when he voluntarily has sexual intercourse with a person other than his spouse." It is a class B misdemeanor.

Utah Code section 76-7-101 states that "a person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person." Bigamy is a third degree felony.

On the recommendation of Guardian Ad Litem Angela Adams, who represents the interests of the children, Shumate ordered a full custody evaluation -- much more in depth than the parental evaluation already completed.

The custody case has not been set for trial yet. No criminal charges have been filed against Holm for his alleged crimes.

Former Utah Attorney General Jan Graham was part of the Stubbs' legal team as well as Park City attorney Christina Miller. Walker was the one to speak in court Monday, but all three advised in the arguments.

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