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Woman appeals ruling in lesbian custody fight

/ Source: The Associated Press

A woman who lost custody of a daughter born during a now-dissolved civil union granted in Vermont has appealed a court decision that gives Virginia jurisdiction in the legal battle.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and two gay rights groups — Lambda Legal and Equality Virginia — filed the brief Wednesday with the Virginia Court of Appeals on behalf of Janet Miller-Jenkins, who has been granted visitation rights in Vermont, where she and her former partner — the biological mother — lived after their civil union.

The groups are contesting a Virginia judge’s ruling in August claiming jurisdiction in the case because the biological mother, Lisa Miller-Jenkins, gave birth to 2-year-old Isabella in the state and now lives there.

Frederick Circuit Judge John Prosser awarded full custody to Lisa Miller-Jenkins a month later, saying that Virginia does not recognize Vermont’s civil-union law or rulings issued from it.

In September, Vermont Family Court Judge William Cohen declared Lisa Miller-Jenkins in contempt of court for failing to grant her former partner visitation rights. Last month, Cohen ruled that both women are the legal parents of Isabella.

State-jurisdictional issues
The case has attracted national media attention, highlighting the fate of children in relationships sanctioned in one state but not in others.

“The Vermont court had already begun deciding the case and had issued orders,” said Rebecca Glenberg, legal director for ACLU of Virginia. “And both federal and state law provide that a second court should not intervene when another court has issued orders in a child custody case.”

Phil Griffin, attorney for Lisa Miller-Jenkins, said, “Virginia has jurisdiction, and Virginia made the right ruling on custody.”

Janet Miller-Jenkins said she last saw Isabella in October. She said the child is experiencing separation anxiety and will likely need counseling once the legal battle is over.

“It’s heinous to think that a parent would do this to their child — I just can’t even fathom that Lisa thinks I would let her [Isabella] go,” Janet Miller-Jenkins said.

A telephone message left for Lisa Miller-Jenkins was not immediately returned.