“The rules of fair play do not apply in love and war.” – John Lyly
Growing up in Israel, Erez Benari’s childhood was spent keeping to himself and reading science fiction novels. After discovering author Robert Heinlein, he began identifying with core themes of Heinlein’s books, specifically self-reliance and individual liberty, the nature of one’s own sexual relationships, how organized religion influences culture and government, societal obligations, and the tendencies of repressing nonconformist thoughts.
Erez met a woman in his early twenties, who he believed shared these same ideals, and married her. After Erez explored his sexuality with a few men, he and his wife applied for and entered the American Diversity Immigrant Visa program and were selected to move to the United States, where they settled in Washington State. Some time later, they had a son. One year his wife took their son on a vacation back to Israel, and Erez discovered The Center for Sex Positive Culture. When his wife returned from the trip, she was unhappy and uncomfortable with Erez exploring this part of himself. He felt deceived – knowing that he had married this woman under the pretense that she also questioned the monogamoustic lifestyle.
When his wife took their son on another trip to Israel, Erez and his wife had yet another taxing fight over the phone. After that fight, Erez realized that this was not the life he wanted for himself, and decided he was done with the marriage. When they returned home, Erez waited a few days for her to settle back into her routines before telling her he wanted to separate. During this conversation, his goal was not to divorce her and upend the life that they had built together for their son, but to live apart from his wife. This arrangement allowed him to be free to explore not only his sexuality, but polyamorous relationships, while still supporting his wife and son financially.
At first, his wife agreed that this would be best for the family, but changed her mind so she could be open to a new marriage. She began the process of divorce by hiring an attorney and including a clause that forbade Erez from not only disclosing he is polyamorous to their son, but from discussing the topic with him in general. Initially, Erez had objected to this, but as he was under significant pressure from his family to sign the divorce decree and dealing with the threat of losing his job at a well-known tech company, he consulted with an attorney on its enforceability. The attorney explained that it was unconstitutional and unenforceable, so Erez signed the decree.
The two years following the divorce were mostly amicable. While his now ex-wife was angry at Erez for leaving him, this new normal did not affect Erez’s visitation with his son. He began dating a woman, Samantha, about two months after the divorce was finalized, but his ex-wife believed he started seeing Samantha prior to the dissolution of their marriage. With this false narrative in mind, Erez’s ex-wife began to blame Samantha and became petty and revengeful. His ex-wife created a Facebook group for their mutual friends, only to tell everyone that he was spreading sexually transmitted diseases to his partners, among other false information. She began threatening to prevent Erez from seeing his son, and while never actually following through with that, the thought of not having his son in his life crushed Erez.
As time went on, Erez began meeting and dating several new people, embracing the life of ethical non-monogamy. One weekend, his multi-connected relationship, affectionately called their “poly-family” arranged a lunch and, unable to find a babysitter, Erez brought his son along to the lunch. When Erez brought his son back to his ex-wife that night, his son told her of his time at the lunch and she became infuriated. She later called Erez to yell and threaten legal action, claiming that he broke the clause of the divorce decree. They agreed to go to mediation to help resolve the matter.
They both went into mediation with different goals: she wanted him to be afraid of being taken to court, and he wanted her to strike the clause about polyamory restrictions. Nothing good came from the mediation, and Erez decided to go to the courts the next day and file to revise the parenting plan, striking the clause. Her lawyer responded by threatening Erez with sanctions, so out of fear, he pulled the motion. Days later, she filed a lawsuit against Erez, accusing him of contempt. She claimed that the lunch exposed their son to polyamory and wrote dozens of pages of accusations against Erez that ranged from harassment accusations to an attempt to persuade their son to be somewhere on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.
Needing to represent himself, Erez hired a law firm for the trial. While his ex-wife’s lawyers were unsuccessful in proving any of the allegations, including bringing their son to the lunch, were done intentionally or with malice, Erez’s lawyers, he feels, did not do a particularly good job in representing him. The judge, unable to make a decision, deferred his ruling for six months, until March 2020, and if Erez didn’t commit any further violations, he would be cleared. This deferment also prevented his ex-wife from being awarded a payment that would cover her legal fees for this lawsuit.
The next six months were fraught with anxiety for Erez, as his ex-wife attempted to document anything she could use against him. Due to the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the court date needed to be rescheduled. Erez obtained new representation, but neither he nor his ex-wife filed to get the hearing rescheduled, essentially dropping it.
Months later, in September 2020, Erez’s ex-wife and their son moved in with her new boyfriend. During Erez’s visitations with his son, his son would talk to Erez about his life with his mom, sharing unpleasant moments. This included the difficult time he was having adjusting to the new home, his new life, and his new stepbrother. Feeling helpless, Erez felt it would be better if his son came to live with him instead. He obtained a new lawyer to file for custody of his son. Knowing this would be a difficult fight and that he did not have great odds, Erez knew he had to try to do what was best for his son.
Weeks later, a response was filed from his ex-wife and it included a letter from their son’s therapist. This letter had very detailed, very serious accusations against Erez, including causing his son stress by exposing him to polyamory and his love life, causing his son to feel like he’s “walking on eggshells” around Erez, to struggle with seeking Erez’s approval and attention, and to stress about Erez’s finances and well-being. Reading the letter from the therapist about how his son was supposedly feeling wrecked, once he got through the initial shock, he saw glaring inconsistencies, and his partners and friends assured him he is a great parent and that the letter was clearly biased. Not wanting to hurt his son further, if anything in the letter turned out to be true, Erez severed contact with his son. He let his and his ex-wife’s attorney know that he was ceasing contact until the court date. Erez knew that while the letter may be riddled with lies, his son knew the truth.
The court date happened in mid-May 2021, and his ex-wife, along with not relinquishing custody, also demanded compensation for the legal costs incurred. At the hearing, the judge determined that the letter from the therapist was not legal evidence, as it was prepared for the court and not requested by the court. Due to the entire case being around this letter, the judge acquitted Erez of contempt from the first battle back in Fall of 2019.
Erez, wanting to be in his son’s life, but not wanting to hurt him emotionally, suggested to his ex-wife that they work together and their son see a therapist who was more open to polyamory and the LGBTQIA+ community. She refused to cooperate with that request and instead suggested Erez take parenting and anger management classes.
Unhappy with the judge’s ruling, Erez’s ex-wife filed an appeal. Two weeks later, a new judge reviewed their paperwork and responses, also deciding in Erez’s favor, officially closing the case.
Erez and his son are working on rebuilding their relationship. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, they would spend their time going to different museums, parks and playgrounds, the zoo, seeing movies, or watching them in the comfort of Erez’s home. For special treats, they attended concerts, mostly symphonies, and as self-described foodies, they enjoyed eating out and expanding their palates as well.
While the legal journey after his marriage has been arduous, Erez’s heart is full – not only does he have his son back, he has also been able to find love again.