Virginia Court of Appeals Upholds Vermont Court Order in Lesbian Mom Custody Dispute: Lambda Legal Hails Victory
"The Virginia Court of Appeals rightly recognized that federal law protects parents against the very thing Lisa Miller did parents can't shop around looking for a court to give them sole custody."
(Richmond, VA, November 28, 2006) — Today, the Virginia Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that the Commonwealth of Virginia has no say in a custody dispute that began in Vermont between Janet Jenkins and her former partner Lisa Miller.
“This has been a long road for Janet and now she’s that much closer to seeing her daughter again,” said Greg Nevins, Senior Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal’s Southern Regional Office in Atlanta. “The Virginia Court of Appeals rightly recognized that federal law protects parents against the very thing Lisa Miller did—parents cannot shop around looking for a court to give them sole custody.”
Janet Jenkins (formerly Janet Miller-Jenkins) filed an appeal with the Virginia Court of Appeals seeking to enforce a Vermont court order saying she must have regular visitation with the now four-year-old daughter she and her former partner, Lisa Miller (formerly Miller-Jenkins), had when the two women were joined in a Vermont civil union. After the women ended their relationship, Miller moved to Virginia with the women’s daughter, and she asked a Vermont court to dissolve the couple’s civil union and sort out custody of the child. When the Vermont court ordered visitation for Jenkins, Miller filed a new lawsuit in Virginia court, successfully using that state’s antigay marriage law to have herself declared the child’s sole legal parent. The conflicting court orders - one from Vermont ordering regular visitation for Jenkins, and the other from a lower court in Virginia naming Miller the sole parent - led to today’s decision from Virginia’s intermediate court. Earlier this month the Vermont court found Miller in contempt for violation of its order for shared custody.
The 14-page decision by Senior Judges Willis and Annunziata and Judge Clements says, “We hold that the trial court erred in failing to recognize that the PKPA [Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act] barred its exercise of jurisdiction. Accordingly we vacate the orders of the trial court and remand this case with instruction to grant full faith and credit to the custody and visitation orders of the Vermont court.”
Today’s decision was the result of Jenkins’ appeal, which argued that the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act and Virginia’s Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act make it clear that the Vermont court alone has jurisdiction in the matter and cannot be interfered with. Furthermore, the federal kidnapping law (PKPA) requires that the Vermont order be enforced in Virginia.
Greg Nevins, Senior Staff Attorney, is Lambda Legal’s attorney on the case. Nevins worked with Rebecca Glenberg of the ACLU Virginia, John Squires of the Equality Virginia Education Fund and lead attorney Joe Price of Arent Fox. She is represented in Vermont by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD). The case is Miller-Jenkins v. Miller-Jenkins.
Jackie Yodashkin 212-809-8585 ext. 229
Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.