An adoptive mother whose seven children were found abandoned at a squalid orphanage in Nigeria gave up custody of the kids Thursday.

Mercury Liggins "does have a love" for the children, but realized that the family "was too fractured to ever go back together," said her lawyer, Michael Delaney.

He said that after speaking with advocates hired to help the children, ages 8 to 17, it became apparent that "the gulf between the kids and Ms. Liggins is wider than we had originally thought.

"Even if she keeps the children legally, there is not going to be a happy home for them," Delaney said.

The children, some of them sick and malnourished, were discovered in August at a Nigerian orphanage by an American missionary who learned they were from Houston and wanted to go home. The church's pastor told two congressmen, and arrangements were made to return them to Texas.

Liggins said she trusted her brother-in-law to care for the children in Nigeria in October 2003 while she took a job in Iraq, working for a subsidiary of Houston-based Halliburton Corp. But the relative took the money, and the children were kicked out of boarding school and put in the orphanage, Liggins said.

After returning to the United States, the youngsters alleged Liggins had abused them physically and emotionally before they were left in Africa. They remain in foster homes.

Judge Sherry Van Pelt probably will decide this month whether to accept the agreement to give up custody, said the children's attorney, Terry Lea Elizondo.