The U.S. Census Bureau reports that there are some 13.7 million parents who have custody of 21.8 million children under the age of 21 while the other parent lives elsewhere. According to the latest available data, only about one out of every six custodial parents were fathers. The majority of these are either divorced or separated (56.2%), while 24.5% are currently married or widowed, and 20.3% have never been married.
Lyle Jeffs, however, is an even rarer case. Not only is he a custodial father, he also falls into two of the three possible statistical demographics. He is simultaneously divorced, and married — not re-married. Lyle Jeffs is a polygamist.
Jeffs’s brother Warren is the president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and has been in prison since 2006 for sexually molesting two members of the congregation. His former followers say Lyle runs the church in his stead.
The FLDS, under the leadership of the Jeffs brothers, have taught that non-believers and people who break off from the church are unrighteous persona non grata. Parents who leave the church often have to go through laborious court battles against spouses just to even be able to visit their children.
All this considered, many were shocked when Jeffs recently agreed to allow his estranged wife to have some custody over their 17-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter. Judge Michael Leavitt approved the agreement on April 29, which gives parents joint custody of the children, but specifies that they live with their mother. Every other weekend, and for a stretch of the summer, they’ll visit Jeffs. Additionally, Jeffs must provide $1,000 a month in child support, be responsible for the children’s health care and education, provide his son with a vehicle that will be used to drive him and his sister between their parents’ homes, and pay his wife two-thirds of her housing costs, not to exceed $2,000 a month.
When he signed his agreement, he wrote below his signature “RESPONDENT SIGNS UNDER PROTEST OF MOTHER BEING CUSTODIAL PARENT.”
Ron Rohbock, one of the Jeffses’ former followers, has six juvenile daughters, whom he hasn’t seen in years. He worries for them, and hopes that the new agreement could be the first of many, potential reunions, telling the Salt Lake Tribune, “This is a great beginning, but it’s just a beginning.”