In one of the first legal cases where Virginia’s new “Marriage Discrimination Act” has played a role in the deliberations, today a judge in Frederick County ruled that Virginia will retain jurisdiction over the Miller-Jenkins custody case, ignoring the standing Vermont custody edict.
The Miller-Jenkins case is a custody dispute between two lesbian mothers, Janet and Lisa who relocated to Vermont, obtained a civil union and had a daughter together. In 2003, the couple went to court in Vermont to dissolve their civil union and custody and visitation of their daughter was decided. Lisa Miller-Jenkins, the biological parent, refused to honor the custody order, moved back to Virginia with her daughter and filed a petition in Frederick County, Virginia asking the court to give her sole custody of their child.
“The judge’s ruling in this case is extremely disappointing,” said ACLU of Virginia’s legal director Rebecca Glenberg. “State and federal law are very clear that Virginia courts may not interfere with the custody and visitation orders of another state court.”
According to the ACLU, the judge today has sent a message that Virginia will be a safe haven for parents who wish to disregard the lawful custody and visitation orders from another state.
“Moreover,” continued Glenberg, “the reason child jurisdiction statutes were enacted was to prevent exactly this scenario-- parents fleeing with children from one jurisdiction to another, because they don’t like the custody rulings of a state. This decision flagrantly ignores decades of child custody case law and will have devastating effects on children across the country.”
The ACLU of Virginia believes it is in the best interest of the child to have a relationship with both of their parents, regardless of whether that is two moms, two dads or a mom and a dad. The ACLU position is that when two people plan to have child together and work together to raise that child, a parent-child relationship is formed by both of them. The decision today flies in the face of preserving such bonds.
This sad case illustrates the devastating effect that the “Marriage Discrimination Act” can have on children and families. Because Virginia now has the strongest anti-gay laws in the country, the Commonwealth made it an obvious place to petition the court to prevent Isabella from having a relationship with both her parents.
For this reason, the ACLU of Virginia, which is working with other groups that advocate for gay and lesbian rights, plans to challenge this new law that bans contracts between same-sex couples. We are actively looking for gay and lesbian couples as plaintiffs who have contracts or other arrangements that have been invalidated by this law.
Contact: Rebecca Glenberg, Legal Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022