A Texas judge has ordered the nation's largest child-custody case be severed into 234 individual cases, with separations based on biological mothers.

Previously, 346 of the 440 children taken from the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch were lumped into two large court cases. Texas 51st District Judge Barbara Walther issued the separation orders on Thursday in response to motions filed by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

"We were able to file this motion with the court in an effort to make a very large and very complex case easier to manage for the court, for our agency and for all of the other parties," said DFPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins.

In April, Walther ordered all children living at the ranch in Eldorado, Texas, to be removed and placed into state custody. Several weeks later, an appeals court and the state's Supreme Court both ruled that the children had been improperly removed from their families and the children were returned.

The families, however, are required to comply with a list of requirements as Child Protective Services workers continue to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect.

Lawyers for FLDS children and parents complained that CPS officials unfairly treated them as one large household, rather than as individual families. Walther's order legally separates the families from one another.

Crimmins noted the new alignment of cases, in sibling groups according to mother, has consistently been one of his agency's goals, and is standard practice in child protective cases.

He said his agency has been able to accurately establish family relationships of most children and mothers who were removed from the ranch.

FLDS leader Warren Jeffs and five FLDS men were indicted earlier this week on charges of sexual abuse of a child, bigamy and failure to report child abuse. The identities of the five men are sealed until the indictments are served.


E-mail: araymond@desnews.com