Kathy Riordan

Kathy Riordan
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April 27
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DECEMBER 30, 2009 9:16AM

The Strange, Sad Case of Miller-Jenkins v. Miller-Jenkins

Rate: 23 Flag

 20090721_custody

 

When Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins entered into a civil union in the state of Vermont in 2000, it's unlikely they realized there would be years of Miller-Jenkins v. Miller-Jenkins ahead of them.

Two years later, in 2002, Lisa Miller gave birth to a child conceived through artificial insemination, and the couple ended their relationship in 2003.

Their 7-year-old daughter, Isabella, has been at the center of a custody dispute for those ensuing years, a custody dispute finally settled by a Vermont judge who has ordered that Lisa Miller, the birth mother who now lives in Virginia, must surrender her daughter to her former partner, Janet Jenkins, in Vermont this Friday, January 1, 2010.

Unfortunately, that is now complicated by the fact that Miller has disappeared with the child. 

Vermont Family Court Judge William Cohen, the same judge who dissolved the civil union, initially gave custody to Miller as biological parent but granted visitation to Jenkins.  Miller then fled to Virginia to avoid having to comply with the court ordered visitation.  On November 20th of this year, Cohen ordered that custody be transferred to Jenkins after finding Miller in contempt for refusing to comply with the visitation order.

It is unknown whether Miller is simply not in contact with her attorneys, or has fled with the minor child.  She has been ordered to turn Isabella over to Jenkins' parents at 1 p.m. Friday at their home in Fair Haven, Vermont. 

The bitter custody dispute has been complicated by accusations of lifestyle impropriety on both sides, as Miller became an evangelical Christian after moving to Virginia and now condemns homosexuality, and Jenkins doesn't want the child living in a religious home where alternate lifestyles are condemned.   Isabella has not lived with Jenkins since she was an infant, and is now enrolled in a Christian school.  Despite their differences, Jenkins has agreed to include Miller in Isabella's life.

The November ruling reversing custody was considered groundbreaking in case law.  Judge Cohen indicated he felt it was the only way it could be insured that the child had contact with both Miller and Jenkins. 

In a recent phone interview with the Rutland (Vt) Herald, Carl Tobias, professor of law at the University of Richmond, emphasized the impact of the decision in case law.  "It's a very important decision that I think will be influential beyond the borders of the states where these cases have been argued," Tobias told the newspaper. 

Miller's disappearance comes after the judge did not grant her a time extension to turn the child over to her former partner.   

 

On the Web:  

State of Vermont:  Decision Re: Motion for Stay Pending Appeal 

Lambda Legal:  Miller-Jenkins V. Miller-Jenkins 

Mrs. Kramer vs. Mrs. Kramer - Newsweek 

 

Miller-Jenkins (WinCE)

In happier times, Janet Miller-Jenkins, Lisa Miller-Jenkins and Isabella.  A Vermont judge recently reversed custody in the dispute over the child, who is now seven.

 

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This is very disturbing. Does religious practice negate custody? I agree with Carl Tobias.
It is sad for the child. It is also sad that, no matter what the "life-style" is, people are still plagued with the same problems when it comes to living together.
Someoe needs to put this child FIRST...nevermind what anyone else wants.
Sad, so Sad! The only one getting hurt is the kid~
R~
Buffy, but what IS best for the child? Offhand, staying with the birth mother she's been with all this time, and in the school she's familiar with, perhaps, even tho it curdles my blood.

Chuck, religious practices can and do negate custody...when they're 'alternative'. I doubt same when they're Christian...

Quel mess. Nature gets some gene-mixing advantages out of two parents, but a whole lot of problems got brought into the scene too...

But if straight people needed any examples of how gay couples are just the same, this is it.
I'm with Buffy, the child should come first, period. When I think of how destabilizing this all must be for a seven-year-old--my son's age--my heart hurts.

Here's what gets to me, though maybe it's just because I'm so adoption-lingo-focused: we're basically talking about two divorced parents, so why is one considered the "birth mother"? Yes, this union dissolved when the child was a baby, and how you decide which mom gets custody is definitely fraught, but still...

I keep wondering, too, about all the personality details we can only infer. Rated.
I'm unclear as to the biological status of the child. Was Lisa Miller just the carrier, or did she contribute her egg? I think it matters. I know this is an unpopular opinion, but there it is.
This is why I couldn't do domestic relations law. It is a mess; it would undoubtedly be easier for Isabella to stay where she has always been, in her current home, at her current school, but I can only imagine how heartbreaking it would be to know that your child was being taught that you are a sinner, living and immoral life. The blind justice approach (taken by the judge) is that Ms. Miller should be punished for failing to comply with a court order, and for creating physical and psychological boundaries between Isabella and her other parent, but should Ms. Jenkins' needs really trump those of a small child? This reminds me of the "Baby Jessica" case here in Michigan in 1993, in which a child was removed from loving adoptive parents because her birth parents (after giving her up because of their own messy relationship) decided that they wanted her back.
I don't see how this is different from heterosexual situations just like it all over the nation.....
sorry...that comment went twice...and it's very interesting to see two pieces on the cover about gay issues...written by straight women....
I think that the issue of religion comes into play here simply in a practical sense: that Miller did not want to even agree to visitation by Jenkins and fled with the child to avoid it. " Miller then fled to Virginia to avoid having to comply with the court ordered visitation." Now she has disappeared with the child again, to avoid a new and more onerous judicial decision: taking custody away from her.

It is not so much that she is religious but that she is now a "new, true, believer" in an evangelical setting which condemns homosexuality, even though she was in a homosexual relationship with the other parent. And there is nothing so unreasonable as a convert, to anything.

My instincts say that the child should stay with the birth mother and should not be further traumatized. But if she does that child is going to grow up in an intolerant household and learn to be intolerant. To me that is not "Christian." That is ideology and contrary to the welcoming and affirming views of Christ.

For me that makes the decision of what to do much harder, because it is not clear to me that the "wellbeiing" of the child is better served by being raised to be an intolerant person herself.

Monte
In 2006 there were 500,000 children in foster care in the U.S. Isn't that strange and sad?
The whole thing is nauseating; treating a child like a ping pong. This reminds me of the old story where two women are fighting for custody of a child and the judge finally says, "I'll cut the baby in two so you can each have a piece," and one of the women, horrified, says, "No. In that case let the other woman have him." And the judge gives the child to her because she showed she put the childs interests first.
taking homosexuality out of the equation (for the moment), let's suppose and unwed pregnant woman enters into a relationship with a man, who is not the child's father. They then split, but after the man adopts the child as his own. Assuming the biological parent gets custody, is the other entitled to visitation?

I guess the complication arises out of their legal marriage, wherein a child born into that marriage is automatically a legal dependent of both individuals, together and separately.

It's important to point out that custody was granted (rightly, I feel) to the biological parent, but it was only through her exclusion of the other parent (without bringing "lifestyle" intolerance into it) that reversed the decision.

For what it's worth, speaking as a child of divorced parents, one parent portraying the other as sinful and even evil and corrupt is nothing new.

While I feel deeply for Ms. Jenkins, the child is to be taken from the only life she's known, and forced into another, which, no matter how loving, she may come to resent.

Oh, and I, for one, call bullshit on Ms. Miller's sudden conversion. Seems a convenient way (albeit a pretty fucked up one) to disavow the other parent.
Yeah, Barking...I think the widespread coverage of this story is homo-phobia at it's finest...all of the social programs we have going for children exist for children abandoned out of disastrous heterosexual relationships...a story like this emerges...about a gay couple going through a ridiculous struggle, and wow...look at that! Whole lotta kids in this country need homes due to broken relationships and parents who can't pull it together....xox
Marital discord is not exclusive to any one group. Mud slinging is at the heart of every child custody dispute. Do you think, maybe, the new religious affiliation could be a ploy to weigh the scales more in her favor????? Duh?????
perhaps the court should appoint legal representation for Isabella.
anyone catch the news item about the couple - unmarried - who split and spent 6 years and tens of thousands of dollars in a custody fight... over the dog?

that's right, the DOG
How very, very sad, and what selfish, selfish adults. That child needs an independent advocate.
Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to conceive.
Children need to be able to sue for abandonment and neglect...
As gay marriage becomes more common, there will only be more and more stories like this. Divorces are already occurring and I've read of other custody battles like this, complicated by the fact that you can never have both be the biological parent of the child unlike with het couples. So one person often is legally more the "real" parent.

I've known oodles of het folks who've gone thru hell around their divorces including custody battles. It's the ugly flipside of the right to be married -- you get all the responsibilities and hassle of it, too. I get the feeling some folks aren't really factoring that in, or thinking (as all couples do when they wed) that it will never happen to them.
Exhibit A for why religious fanatics should not have children. Actually, it's Exhibit A for the proposition that some people are just all f*cked up and cases such as these should be decided on their individual merits.
"The bitter custody dispute has been complicated by accusations of lifestyle impropriety on both sides, as Miller became an evangelical Christian after moving to Virginia and now condemns homosexuality, and Jenkins doesn't want the child living in a religious home where alternate lifestyles are condemned." It doesn't get any more surreal than this. Thanks, Kathy.
It seems surreal to take the child from the biological mother to give the child to the non biological mother, but that would be like giving custody to the father in a traditional family dissolution, so I guess it ought not surprise. The predisposition of the court was to grant custody to the biological birth mother, but said mother's inability to compromise resulted in that being rescinded. Only loser here is the child and the only winner happens to be the attorney who can bill against a retainer.
Heather has two divorcing mommies
I see the Wall Street Journal law blog also blogged on this later in the day: Mother v. Mother
Oh. My. God.

There's nothing I could add to what's already been said about this. Except that it runs serious chills down my spine . . . the evangelical thing, in particular. Sure it could be a ploy. But I know that part of the faith spectrum, and it's pretty . . . cult-like, in many cases.
Yes, it is sad when relationships go sour. It's sad when they are children involved...in any kind of a relationship.
LiveLinking 15 minutes of Open Salon...

And how many blogs would anybody have to read before they knew the USA is fighting two wars right now, and killing children every day?

"Narang, Kunar: Death to Obama"
Probably not too many, Jacob. Most of the people here are pretty well informed on that score already.
More than two wars, Jacob.

I can imagine a situation in which both parents are doing what they think is best for the child. Whether their perception is accurate is a completely different matter.
The final proof that most people are selfish and should not have children comes in a typical custody battle. This was portrayed perfectly on a South Park episode in which the child in question said, simply: "Okay, if you really want what's best for me, don't get a divorce. Work it out." Of course, the parent hearing this good advice from a child closed the car door in his face.

People have babies the way I buy groceries--selfishly, ignorantly, and with only one person in mind. So when a relationship hits the rocks (as most do, eventually) the children have all of the emotional turmoil while the adults are busy redefining themselves and "growing." It happens everywhere, every day.
Updating this story, Miller failed to turn over Isabella to Jenkins at the appointed time on Friday, and her whereabouts with the child remain unknown.