RUTHERFORDTON — The fate of four children caught in a custody battle involving the Word of Faith Fellowship church and a former church member may be known as early as next week.
The ongoing Department of Social Services case against the mother Shana Muse resumes Friday while motions relating to a civil suit involving the same parties will be heard today.
The civil suit has been on hold as the DSS case inched forward. Muse’s lawyer Ed Hensley has filed a motion in the civil case to vacate an order issued by Chief District Court Judge Robert Cilley in December 2002 giving Kent and Brooke Covington temporary custody of the children.
Kent Covington is a minister in the WOFF.
Muse left the children with the Covingtons in September of 2002 after she left the church but the children refused to go with her. Muse felt, at the time, it was best to leave the children behind. The children were scared that leaving the church meant they would go to hell.
Muse later sought counseling from the Wellspring Retreat in Albany, Ohio which specializes in helping former cult members. She later returned to Rutherford County and is living and working here while trying to regain custody of her children.
Former WOFF members and experts from Wellspring contend the church, through its controlling, hierarchical nature, is a cult.
Muse was on the stand Aug. 21 when the DSS proceeding was stopped for the day and scheduled to resume Friday. Muse had testified through DSS attorney Brad Greenway’s questioning about the practices of the church and to the abuse both she and the children went through.
Prior to the start of Muse’s testimony, Judge Randy Pool had ruled that Muse’s own admission that the children had been abused while Muse was in the church was sufficient to judge the children as abused and move to the disposition phase. DSS filed their case against Muse, not the church or the Covingtons, alleging that the children have been abused and the DSS should, therefore, take control over the proper placement of the children.
Muse is supporting the DSS action to gain control of the children because she wants them removed from the WOFF environment as soon as possible. If DSS does gain custody, there will be several steps Muse must go through to prove her fitness as a mother before regaining full custody.
A ruling Thursday in the civil case vacating the temporary custody order could trigger several other actions including an attempt by Hensley and DSS to remove the Covingtons as parties to the civil case and the DSS proceeding.
In late June, Judge David Fox had ruled in favor of Covingtons attorney Tom Hix in moving that the Covingtons be added as parties to the cases. Hix argued that it would not make sense for the current caregivers not to have legal standing in the custody of the children and Fox agreed.
Not having the Covingtons as a party to the case could preclude testimony from current WOFF members.
When the DSS proceeding resumes Friday, Muse will return to the stand with Hix continuing the cross examination he previously started. Hix’s questions so far had related to Muse’s past prior to her coming to Rutherford County.
Muse has admitted that she “is not proud of her past” which includes drug use and serving time in jail for passing bad checks.
All of next week has been blocked off for the case with Judge Pool presiding.
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