This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The legal wife of Lyle Jeffs, the man running the day-to-day operations of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, has filed for divorce and wants custody of her minor children, in part because of some practices in the faith that she describes as "illegal."
Documents filed by Charlene Wall Jeffs, 58, discuss life in the FLDS under her husband and his imprisoned brother, Warren Jeffs from restrictive diets to sexual policies that she refers to as rape.
"Under Lyle's reign as substitute Prophet, the FLDS Church has become even more disturbing than it was under Warren," Charlene Jeffs says in a petition filed in 5th District Juvenile Court in St. George.
The petition asks that two teenage children she has with her husband be removed from Lyle Jeffs' compound in Hildale and placed with her or into protective custody.
The documents in the petition show that Judge Paul Dame did not find the children were in imminent danger and declined a request to remove the youths immediately. A hearing has been scheduled to hear oral arguments.
Attorneys for Charlene and Lyle Jeffs did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
The petition was filed with the court April 10. It was fastened to the compound door in an effort to serve Lyle Jeffs and has been circulated among people who have left the FLDS.
Lyle and Charlene Jeffs have been married since August 1983 and have 10 children together, the petition says. The two teenagers discussed in court documents, a 17-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl, appear to be the youngest.
Charlene Jeffs says she has been "excluded" from the teens' lives for about three years.
"Of Lyle's multiple wives, I was never the favorite because I have a mind of my own," Charlene Jeffs wrote in the petition. "Lyle sent me away from the family to repent for the first time in November 2002 because 'I did not know how to properly treat the Priesthood in my life.' "
FLDS leaders are referred to as "the Priesthood."
Charlene Jeffs goes on to write that in the first year of her exile, she was allowed to live in the family home but not to mother her children.
"I could cook and clean but do no more," she wrote. "In the FLDS Church, children belong to the Priesthood and can be transferred to different mothers or different parents all together upon an order from the Priesthood."
In the second year of her exile, Charlene Jeffs said, she was moved to a guest house in Hildale. She returned to the family home after two years of repenting, but has not been allowed to rear her children since then, she wrote. Care for the children has been rotated among her husband's so-called spiritual wives, she wrote.
Other members of Lyle Jeffs' family who have left the FLDS have said Charlene Jeffs was the first of nine wives. One of the spiritual wives is Pauline Barlow, and she is named as a respondent in the custody petition.
Charlene Jeffs said she was ordered to leave her husband's compound Sept. 27, 2014, for being "unrighteous." She has not been allowed to see the teens since then.
Charlene Jeffs asked the judge to remove the children immediately before her husband realized she had no interest in returning to the FLDS.
"The Jeffs family is the FLDS equivalent of the British Royal Family and they have their own FLDS 'secret service' to protect them from the outside world," Charlene Jeffs explained in her petition. "If Lyle had any idea that I have gone 'apostate,' he would make my children disappear to one of the many hidden FLDS communities in the U.S., Canada, Mexico or somewhere new altogether, and I would never find them."
Charlene Jeffs described what she deemed two "illegal practices," including one adopted in recent years referred to as the "seed bearer" doctrine in which men no longer are allowed to have children with their wives. Instead, a group of seed bearers have been chosen.
"It is the husband's responsibility to hold the hands of their wives while the seed bearer 'spreads his seed,' " Charlene Jeffs wrote. "In layman terms, the husband is required to sit in the room while the chosen seed bearer, or a couple of them, rape his wife or wives."
It's not the first description of such a policy. In 2014, two University of Utah researchers published a paper on polygamy that, drawing on interviews, discussed how only 15 worthy men were allowed to procreate. That paper said the husband holds down the wife while one of the 15 men rapes her.
Charlene Jeffs also describes the "Law of Sarah" in which FLDS women perform sex acts on one another to prepare for an encounter with a man in the Priesthood. Charlene Jeffs says a sister wife made advancements on her, but she refused. In her petition, Charlene Jeffs worries her daughter will be made to participate in the practice.
Charlene Jeffs also is concerned about a lack of education for FLDS children and orders from Lyle and Warren Jeffs forbidding certain vegetables, milk and ocean fish. She checked a box on the petition indicating she had made a report to Utah Division of Child and Family Services.
Ashley Sumner, a spokeswoman for DCFS, declined Friday to discuss whether that agency had any involvement, citing a confidentiality policy.
The divorce petition was filed April 17 in a separate case in 3rd District Court in Tooele.
Warren Jeffs, 59, is serving a sentence of life plus 20 years in Texas for convictions related to taking two girls as child brides. He is still considered the president and prophet of the church and communicates orders through his family. His former followers say Lyle Jeffs, 55, runs the church in his absence.
During the past 15 years, hundreds of people have stopped following Warren and Lyle Jeffs, either after being evicted or because of the edicts the brothers have handed down.
Charlene Jeffs is a half sister of Elissa Wall and Rebecca Musser. Elissa Wall, known as "MJ" when she was a juvenile, was the alleged victim in Warren Jeffs' 2007 trial in St. George in which he was convicted of being an accomplice to rape. The Utah Supreme Court later overturned the conviction.
Musser was a wife to Rulon Jeffs, Lyle and Warren's father. She later testified for the prosecution in the Texas trials where Warren Jeffs and nine other men were convicted of sex crimes or bigamy.