When hearings begin Monday for individual FLDS families, the state's conditions for reunification will get clearer.
What will happen to the children?
Beginning Monday, that's the question before Texas courts as the state opens the next phase in determining whether 465 children removed from a ranch operated by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) should be reunited with their parents or permanently removed from their homes.
In the first of a series of hearings, to occur at six-month intervals for 18 months, the state is expected to present a plan for each child that outlines what steps parents must take to be reunited with their offspring. The plans also identify the services the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) can provide to help the family achieve that outcome.
"The important thing to understand is this generally is not an opportunity to relitigate the removal [of the children]," says Scott McCown, a retired Texas judge who now directs the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin. "The child has already been removed, so this is about where we go from here. What's the plan?"
The children were taken from the FLDS Yearning for Zion ranch near Eldorado, Texas, in early April, sparking the biggest child custody case in US history. Two weeks later, state district Judge Barbara Walther ruled there was evidence to indicate the children were at risk of sexual abuse if they returned to the ranch. The sect is known to sanction "spiritual marriages" of underage girls, usually to older men who already have one wife or more. Of 53 girls the state believes to be minors (some girls gave conflicting accounts of their ages), more than 30 have children, are pregnant, or both, DFPS has reported.