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Seeking to keep custody, FLDS woman says her children won't be married underage

Published September 21, 2011 6:46 pm

Polygamy • Ex-husband seeks custody, says children in 'imminent danger.'
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A woman wants a judge to dismiss a custody suit filed by her ex-husband, who says that their children are in danger of being married underage if they stay with her in the polygamous sect led by Warren Jeffs.

The children's mother, Amy Jeffs, said in court documents that church leaders have not asked her about allowing her daughters to marry before they are 18, and would not consent to such an arrangement.

"I strongly deny that there has been any effort to cause the marriage, underage or otherwise, of any of my children," she wrote. "I was an adult when I was married, and I have the same expectations of my own children."

Amy Jeffs is a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, whose leader, Warren Jeffs, was sentenced to life in a Texas prison in August for sexually assaulting two girls, ages 12 and 15, who he took as plural wives.

Her ex-husband, Wallace Jeffs — the leader's half-brother — was excommunicated from the sect seven years ago, forcing him to leave behind Amy Jeffs and their children. In July, he filed a lawsuit seeking custody of their six minor children and damages from church leaders, saying the girls were in "imminent danger" of being married underage and the boys are at risk of being expelled from the group.

Amy Jeffs says her ex-husband has not been in contact with his children for five years, and "the younger children do not even know their father."

But Wallace Jeffs' attorney said he was told to leave his family alone if he someday wanted to return.

"He was directed by his religious leader to have no contact as a means of earning his ability to be reunited with his family," said Roger Hooele. "Any lack of contact was the result of religious leaders' communication, it was not his choice."

Wallace Jeffs said he has since seen videos of a recorded 2007 jailhouse conversation in which Warren Jeffs says he is not the true prophet (Warren Jeffs later recanted). In his suit, Wallace Jeffs also accused his half-brother of fraud for continuing to lead the FLDS people.

But Amy Jeffs' attorney says question of who is the FLDS prophet is a religious consideration — and not something that a judge should decide.

"Plaintiff seeks precisely the sort of judgement prohibited by the Establishment Clause: a decision that a religious leader who claims to be the prophet of God is really not a prophet. What evidence would plaintiff adduce to prove his claim?" attorney Rod Parker wrote in a motion to dismiss filed Sept. 9 in 5th District Court.

But Hooele says that Amy Jeffs, like other active members of the FLDS, is prohibited from watching those jailhouse conversations or seeing evidence presented at Warren Jeffs trial.

"If Amy Jeffs was allowed to learn this information, which she is not allowed to learn, she is a good mother and she would take the steps necessary to protect her children," he said.

Assigned Judge John R. Anderson has not yet ruled on the motion to dismiss.

lwhitehurst@sltrib.com Twitter: @lwhitehurst The Polygamy Blog: sltrib.com/blogs/polygblog




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