Family Law

Texas Plans for FLDS Kids Unclear & Unfair, Lawyers Say

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Plans discussed in court hearings today to reunite some 465 children removed from a communal ranch home in Texas last month with at least their mothers during the next year are so unclear that it’s impossible to comply with them, lawyers for some parents and children say.

Some also are still questioning the right of authorities to remove children, on the theory that the environment at the Yearning for Zion ranch was abusive, when the parents themselves aren’t shown to have mistreated their children, reports the Houston Chronicle. Authorities say a number of underage teenage girls from YFZ are, or have been, pregnant and are involved in multiple “spiritual” marriages.

The ranch is run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which reportedly advocates polygamy and marriages of teenage girls to much older men, as discussed in earlier posts. However, that may not be true of all the families who were living there, says the Christian Science Monitor.

Polly O’Toole, a Dallas attorney for an 8-year-old girl from a family of eight children, says there is no evidence that her client’s parents neglected or abused their children in any way. “The parents identified themselves, they have a marriage license, birth certificates, and they don’t believe in underage marriage,” she tells the Boston newspaper.

Although Texas officials have said they intended to keep sibling groups together, the eight children are in five facilities throughout the state, according to O’Toole. She says she has filed a motion to return the children to their parents, and the court plans to hear it early next month.

For most parents in the FLDS, however, getting their children back right away probably is not an option:

“The important thing to understand is this generally is not an opportunity to relitigate the removal [of the children],” Scott McCown, a retired Texas judge tells the Christian Science Monitor. “The child has already been removed, so this is about where we go from here. What’s the plan?”

But the plan isn’t clear, lawyers for some parents say. Among the questions many have to which the state reportedly hasn’t provided clear answers are whether they may return to the YFZ ranch, whether they may teach their FLDS religion to their children and whether their men may reside in their homes. Home schooling has been listed as an issue in some plans for the children, yet home schooling is not illegal.

This round of hearings is expected to last three weeks.

Additional coverage:

Associated Press: “Texas sect parents complain of vague custody plans”

New York Times: “Mother Has Hearing in Polygamy Case”

Salt Lake Tribune: “Attorneys want FLDS children treated as individuals in court”

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