A Custody Battle in Texas
The custody hearing over the 416 children removed from the polygamist sect by the State of Texas got off to a hectic start.
A court hearing to decide the fates of hundreds of children seized from a polygamist retreat was off to a chaotic start Thursday as hundreds of lawyers in two different locations demanded to study the first piece of evidence before it could be introduced.
State District Judge Barbara Walther called a recess 40 minutes after the hearing began in what could be the nation’s largest child custody case. She wanted to allow the 350 lawyers spread out in two buildings to read the evidence and decide whether to object en masse or make individual objections.
The hearing resumed about an hour later.
The focus of this post is principally the legal issues before Judge Walther. But it is difficult not to make a comment in passing about the sect itself. Legally admissable evidence as to the most horrifying allegation about the sect, the forced marriage and the associative abuse of underage girls, has yet to be brought forth. So we will set that aside for the moment. What we do know is that
Members believe a man must marry at least three wives in order to ascend to heaven.
Women are meanwhile taught that their path to heaven depends on being subservient to their husband.
Commenter Rhody is down on judgmentalism. Am I being judgmental if I say that treating children like trading cards is disgusting?
Additional details on life at the ranch began to emerge as child welfare investigator Angie Voss testified.
She said that if one of the men fell out of favor with the FLDS, his wives and children would be reassigned to other men. The children would then identify the new man as their father. Voss said that contributed to the problem of identifying children’s family links and their ages.
And caused the state to ask for genetic testing of the children, a request upon which Judge Walther has not yet ruled.
As to the legal issues to be addressed by this hearing, one of them will not be religion.
“The court is not in the position and certainly does not intend to rule about someone’s religious practices and their freedom of religion,” said Judge Walther.
The judge herself described the core issue which, of course, is custody.
What I’m trying to get to is whether or not these children should be returned to their parents or whether there’s enough information that they need to be retained in the custody of the (child welfare) department
A component of this decision is that
Under Texan law, girls younger than 16 cannot marry, even with parental approval.
* * *
Texas law states that if sexual abuse is happening in a home and a parent does not put a stop to it, then the parent can lose custody of the child.
Marrying off an underage daughter, therefore, would constitute failure to stop sexual abuse of a child.
A slightly exasperated Judge Walther continues.
The real issue we haven’t even been able to get to, and the issue is whether or not the court can return these children to their parents. To the extent that you all want to argue about procedure [I’ll let you)] but you need to help me focus on what the issue is: Did the department act on evidence in a way that, based on the light of day, is insufficient for the department to continue to be the temporary conservators? This is a continuation of the emergency process and it is designed to have a little looser procedure, so that the parents are not hampered.
An important part of the evidence would potentially be contributed by the 16 year old girl whose call to a family violence shelter led to the raid of the sect. She has not yet been identified, however, and some sect members are saying that she does not exist, which would place the raid and the removal of the children on shaky legal grounds.
One aspect upon which the judge must rule is a little baffling.
One of the judge’s tasks is to determine whether or not the ranch constitutes a “home” under state law.
Does this mean that if the ranch was not a home, the parent did no wrong in marrying off an underage daughter?