Vermont and Virginia courts embroiled in custody battle

Posted on 18 Jan 2007 at 8:09pm
By David Gram Associated Press

Custody dispute arising from a civil union breakup an early test of some of the legal ramifications of Vermont’s civil unions law



Janet Jenkins of Fair Haven, Vt., appears in Family Court on Nov. 17, in a custody dispute hearing arising from a civil union breakup with Lisa Miller, a woman in Virginia.

MONTPELIER, Vt. A woman embroiled in a child custody battle with her former civil union partner said Sunday, Jan. 14 she would ask a judge to order that she be given “full physical custody” of a child born to the other woman.

Janet Jenkins of Fair Haven also said she had obeyed a child support order issued last month and had just arranged her second $240 monthly payment to Lisa Miller of Winchester, Va., for the care of Isabella, the now 4-year-old girl born during the women’s civil union.

Jenkins said she sent the first check by certified mail, only to have it returned, and tried to make the second payment through an Internet bill-paying service.

Jenkins said she expected that the dissolution of her civil union with Miller will be made final in April. As part of the final order, she said, she planned to ask for full custody, allowing for supervised visits between Miller and Isabella.

She said she would tell the court “that [Miller has] kidnapped and blocked me for two years from my child.”

They were the latest developments in a long-running legal battle that at times had pitted courts in Vermont and Virginia against one another and which has gained national attention as an early test of some of the legal ramifications of Vermont’s civil unions law.

Vermont in 2000 became the first state in the nation to offer legal recognition to same-sex relationships when it passed a law allowing civil unions. At the same time, it set up a process called dissolution similar to divorce when such unions are ended.

Jenkins and Miller, then living in Virginia, which does not recognize civil unions, traveled to Vermont and entered a civil union in 2001. In April 2002, Miller gave birth to Isabella by artificial insemination.

The women moved to Vermont but their relationship foundered. Miller filed for a dissolution of the civil union in the Rutland Family Court and returned to Virginia with Isabella. She blocked Jenkins’ efforts to see Isabella.

Since then, the legal battle has played out on parallel tracks in the two states.
Miller won a Virginia court order declaring her Isabella’s sole parent and that, because Virginia doesn’t recognize civil unions, Jenkins had no legal relationship with the child.

But Jenkins won a favorable ruling in Virginia Nov. 28, when an appeals court ruled that Vermont courts hold sway under the principle that states honor one another’s custody orders.

Vermont has treated the case much like a standard divorce and custody battle. Rutland Family Court Judge William Cohen in November found Miller in contempt of court for failing to allow Jenkins to visit the girl, ordering Miller to pay more than $9,000 in fines and costs.

That order has been stayed while further appeals are pending in Virginia.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 19, 2007

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