Virginia woman who has refused child visitation for her former
civil union partner is fined
RUTLAND, Vt. A judge on Nov. 17 imposed financial penalties against a Virginia woman who has refused child visitation for her former civil union partner, the latest move in a legal battle that has pitted courts in Vermont and Virginia against one another.
Rutland Family Court Judge William Cohen said Lisa Miller owes a total of $9,166.50 so far, an amount that would rise by $25 for each day she denies court-ordered visitation between Janet Jenkins and the daughter born during the couple’s civil union. The amount included the daily penalty, Jenkins’ legal expenses, and travel expenses for the times Jenkins has traveled and been prevented from seeing the girl.
“The only appropriate procedure for this court to follow would be to impose a compensatory penalty,” Cohen said, denying Jenkins’ request to revise the existing visitation order.
Jenkins and Miller lived together in Virginia in the late 1990s before deciding, after Vermont passed a law allowing same-sex couples to obtain the rights of marriage through civil unions in 2000, to travel to Vermont and get legal recognition for their relationship.
They took the name Miller-Jenkins and a year after their civil union, Lisa, who had been impregnated by artificial insemination, gave birth to Isabella in Virginia in April of 2002. They then moved to Vermont.
Miller filed for a dissolution of the civil union in November of 2003. She later took Isabella, now 4, to Virginia, which does not recognize same-sex marriage or civil unions, and won a court order granting her sole parentage.
Miller was not represented in court on Nov. 17 because her local attorney had a scheduling conflict. But Rena M. Lindevaldsen of Liberty Counsel said in written arguments that the Rutland court still did not have jurisdiction.
“Lisa is caught in the middle of this political, ideological, religious and legal battle,” Lindevaldsen wrote in the brief. “It bears emphasis that this case is not the typical custody battle between two parents. … There is only one biological or adoptive parent involved in this litigation Lisa. Janet’s claim to parental rights and responsibilities over [Isabella] is a legal fiction.”
Jenkins disputes that contention.
“I think jurisdiction should be held here in Vermont, as it started here in Vermont,” Jenkins said after the hearing. “Lisa filed here in Vermont [for the dissolution]. It should never have been admissible in Virginia.”
The Rutland Family Court in Vermont awarded Jenkins visitation rights, including “the third full week of every month and telephone contact once a day,” said Jennifer Levi, a lawyer for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, which has taken up Jenkins’ cause.
Miller refused to comply with the Vermont order and Cohen found her in contempt in 2004. The Vermont Supreme Court upheld Cohen in August after Liberty Counsel appealed.
Virginia courts have claimed jurisdiction over the case.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, November 24, 2006.