It has been more than 20 years since Phil Holman experienced first hand the emotional nightmare experienced by so many fathers fighting for the right to simply be a good dad. Phillip Holman was already known as an effective and successful attorney in Detroit Michigan. However, it was at this point that his career and his life became dedicated the rights of fathers and children in matters of divorce and paternity. Phil Holman continues to work tirelessly advocating for the rights of fathers and children and challenging a system that too often favors tradition and stereotype over the best interests of our children.
The following is a Letter To the Editor written by Phillip Holman and published in Michigan Lawyers Weekly in 1991 (Page 5 Mich.L.W. 957), challenging the proposed enactment of certain rules governing domestic relations pactice. Phil argues eloquently with the best evidence he had…his story.
To the Editor:
I am submitting this letter in the hopes that the proposed rules published in the May issue of the Michigan Bar Journal regulating domestic relations practice will not be enacted as proposed. However, rather than attempt a legal analysis, I think it is important for each individual involved in this process to realize how such matters impact the lives of the individuals involved. Accordingly, I decided to relate my personal experience with ex parte orders.
On Monday, April 10, 1989 at 4:50 p.m., I received a telephone call from my wife. She advised me that in accordance with her Temporary Custody Order, she had moved out and had taken our two sons with her. Moreover, acting on the advice of her “attorney”, she had decided not to inform me where they were staying. At the end of the conversation, I felt that this must be some sort of cruel joke, that the woman I had made love to the night before and with whom I had spent ten years of my life was not capable of such behavior. Nor could I believe that the legal system to which I had devoted my career could sanction what I regarded as the “kidnapping” of my children. The rest of that afternoon remains a blur for me, although I remember weeping for only the second time in my adult life.
It took two days before I could face the prospect of entering our home. Two days did not prepare me for the wave of emotion that swept over me as I stared at rooms that once contained the furnishings of a family of four and now consisted primarily of packaging tape, a few empty boxes and the ghostly outlines of my sons’ furniture on the carpet.
In the interim, acting out my desperation and fear, I went to my sons’ elementary school. Although I am usually thought of as articulate, I stumbled and stuttered as I attempted to explain to my son, the horror of family separation that had so suddenly and brutally violated his world. It came as a shock to hear that his feelings were not considered any more than my own. My son explained that he had not known what was happening; he had been picked up from school the day before and told by his mother that they would not be returning home and that they no longer lived there. The confusion and fear I saw mirrored in his eyes filled me with outrage. I put my arms around him and we clung to each other, trying to reach across the chasm that now separated us.
As my son sat on my lap and clutched my neck so tightly that he lifted himself almost in an upright position, I whispered in his ear that no matter how long it took, and no matter what the cost, I would never stop fighting to regain our lives together. That whispered promise has given me strength on many nights when things seemed hopeless. Today I know that it is important to keep promises made to children, especially children of divorce whose lives are inevitably based on broken promises. By writing this letter, I am keeping my promise to him for at least one more day.
I clung to the promise I had just given my son as I drove out of the parking lot and was intercepted by my wife. She appeared frantic and seemed unable to look at me as her eyes instead searched the interior of my car. It wasn’t until I was a few blocks away that it first occurred to me that her arrival was probably designed to prevent the kidnapping scheme she must have imagined. The betrayal I felt that day has stayed with me, and I have come to recognize that my only crime was that of being male in a society that somehow believes that fathers love their children less.
After a few weeks, I requested a hearing, in which I asked the Court to end the trauma of separation being imposed on our sons and to return them to their childhood home. In an attempt to justify my wife’s behavior, her attorney stated that her actions were taken to avoid my violent reaction to her filing for a divorce. However, when directly challenged, the best they could assert was that there was “violence in the air.” This allegation shocked me since, in ten years of marriage, my wife and I never had a raised voice discussion.
Although my wife and I made several attempts at reconciliation, the specter of that telephone call has continued to haunt us. During reconciliation counseling, she stated that she didn’t believe I could forgive her for taking our sons. Similarly, she was afraid to accept the settlement proposal of joint custody made by the two psychiatrists who did our psychological evaluation and custodial recommendation.
It has now been over two years since she first filed for divorce. We recently attended another hearing on implementing the Judgment, which was entered last August. The custodial provisions have thus far prevented me from fulfilling the commitment I whispered to my son over 730 days ago.
I am writing to describe the emotional nightmare I have lived during the past two years because I blame much of my sons’ psychological trauma and much of our inability to resolve the legal issues surrounding our divorce on the ex parte custody order entered at the inception of the divorce. Although ex parte proceedings and protective orders may be appropriate in clearly documented cases of physical violence, they are extremely inappropriate and emotionally devastating in the vast majority of cases. The proposed rules authorize judicial action previously viewed as technically beyond the courts’ authority. These rules can only serve to encourage the inappropriate use of such draconian measures in ex parte proceedings. I am saddened to see our judicial system considering rules that will increase the most psychologically devastating behavior in divorces.
I pray that some day we will remove the issues of custody and visitation from the legal arena. Until then, we should at least discourage the use of ex parte orders and similar legal maneuvers which escalate an emotionally explosive situation to the point of conflagration.
-Phillip J. Holman