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SAN ANGELO, Texas - Arthur L. Barlow has never stepped foot on the YFZ Ranch and he left the polygamous sect that resides there years ago. That's true of Frank Johnson, too.

Yet both men are being asked to comply with a family service plan as part of returning children taken from the ranch to their parents. If it will get the children out of state custody, they'll do it, the men told district judges Tuesday.

"I'm here to help," said Barlow, later adding that "the children belong [with their mother] or with me."

The men are among a contingent of fathers exiled from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who have offered to take their children, who have been in state custody for six weeks.

Such "default" placements are routinely considered when allegations are made against one parent but not the other, said attorney Deborah Keenum, who represents children of another former sect member.

That's a point being made by the fathers, who say allegations about the ranch don't apply to them and ask why they should have to comply with boilerplate service plans.

"If I'm not guilty of those [abuse allegations in the plans], why can't I have my children?" Barlow asked Judge Jay Weatherby.

Barlow said a former brother-in-law asked him to seek temporary custody of his five children, who have been moved to shelters in Amarillo and Gonzalez.

Both men were excommunicated and separated from their families about four years ago.

"I wasn't so willing to leave them as to accept the need to go and repent from a distance," said Johnson, whose wife chose to stay - a decision he respects.

Barlow put it this way: "I've seen so many separation cases where the children are pawns. I chose to stay away and let them have a stable life."

The men moved to Texas about a week ago, rented a house in Abilene and began working as tile setters. Both have visited their children; both praised the parenting abilities of their children's mothers and want the women to regain custody.

Johnson said he has "perfect confidence" in his former wife's "ability to be a mother and father."

An attorney for Esther Barlow, Arthur's former wife, said she is on a "fast track" to regain her children. She has completed a psychological evaluation and rented a home, has employable skills and there is no evidence she has abused her children, Tip Hargrove told Weatherby.

The children, Barlow urged the judge, "need to be in their home."