Waldlaw Blog

Friday, August 04, 2006

Victory in Miller-Jenkins

After all the recent defeats, it's nice to have a victory to report on! Those of you who read this blog regularly may remember that there is an interstate lesbian custody dispute going on involving Vermont and Virginia. The case involves Lisa Miller-Jenkins and Janet Miller-Jenkins, two women who travelled from Virginia to Vermont to enter into a civil union in preparation for having a baby together. They subsequently returned to Virginia and Lisa gave birth to their daughter. They then moved to Vermont -- finding Virginia an inhospitable place in which to raise a child as a lesbian couple -- and ultimately broke up in Vermont. The Vermont court took jurisdiction and entered custody, visitation and support orders. Lisa then took the child and moved back to Virginia and -- on the day that Virginia's Defense of Marriage Act went into effect -- petitioned the Virginia courts to be declared the child's sole legal parent. The Virginia courts ruled in Lisa's favor, finding that the Vermont orders were void in Virginia because they were based on a civil union not recognized as valid by Virginia. In the meantime, Lisa was held in contempt of court by Vermont for failing to honor their visitation orders. Now the case has made it all the way to the Vermont Supreme Court, which ruled today that the Vermont trial court had valid jurisdiction over this family when it made it's rulings, and that those rulings were appropriate and remain binding on Lisa, and that the contempt order against her for thumbing her nose at the Vermont courts is also valid. Of course, we still don't know what Virginia is going to have to say about this.... Anyway, the AP article on the case is pasted in below. And it sure is good to have someone sticking up for our children now and then!! http://www.wcax.com/global/story.asp?s=5240762&ClientType=Printable Vermont court says lesbian has joint custody of child MONTPELIER, Vt. -- The Vermont Supreme Court said Friday that Vermont courts, and not those in Virginia, have exclusive jurisdiction over an emotional case between two women arguing custody over a child they had while they were in a lesbian relationship. The unanimous ruling in Vermont conflicts with a series of decisions in Virginia courts, which held that that state's anti-gay marriage laws controlled the case. Vermont Justice John Dooley wrote, though, that it's Vermont's laws that control because the women involved in the dispute were legally joined in a civil union in 2000 and that's what governs their 2003 separation and subsequent child custody disagreement. A lawyer representing opponents of same-sex marriage said the dispute undoubtedly will have to be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court. "It's a classic conflict between two states over same-sex unions," said Mathew Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, which is representing one of the women in the dispute. "The real question there is whether or not a state can have its own policy that does not accept same-sex unions or whether they have to accept the union of another state." Vermont became the first state in the nation to recognize same-sex couples' relationships in 2000, enacting a civil union law that mimics marriage. Only one other state has such a law and whether such relationships would be recognized in other states has been a matter of litigation. "This is a straightforward interstate jurisdictional dispute over custody, and the governing law fully supports the Vermont court's decision to exercise jurisdiction and refuse to follow the conflicting Virginia visitation order," Dooley wrote. The case involves Lisa Miller-Jenkins and Janet Miller-Jenkins, who were Virginia residents in 2000 when they traveled to Vermont to join in a civil union. Lisa Miller-Jenkins conceived a child through artificial insemination while the couple was together, and they eventually moved full-time to Vermont. About a year later Lisa Miller-Jenkins renounced her homosexuality, returned to Virginia, and denied Janet Miller-Jenkins' demands for visitation rights. They were granted a dissolution of their civil union, akin to divorce, and Lisa Miller-Jenkins filed for full custody. A Vermont Family Court judge gave Janet Miller-Jenkins temporary visitation, prompting Lisa Miller-Jenkins to file a month later for full custody in Virginia courts. The Vermont Supreme Court ruled in favor of Janet Miller-Jenkins on three key issues: the visitation dispute, the Vermont court's refusal to abide by the Virginia court's orders, and a contempt ordered issued by the Vermont Family Court against Lisa Miller-Jenkins for failing to abide by its visitation order. Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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