Woman is told to give up child

But birth mother can’t be found

By Wilson Ring
Associated Press / December 30, 2009

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MONTPELIER - The birth mother of a 7-year-old Virginia girl must transfer custody of the child to the woman’s former lesbian partner, a Vermont judge has ruled, adding that it seems the woman has “disappeared’’ with her daughter.

Vermont Family Court Judge William Cohen ordered Lisa Miller of Winchester, Va., to turn over her daughter Isabella to Janet Jenkins of Fair Haven at 1 p.m. Friday at the Virginia home of Jenkins’s parents.

But in the Dec. 22 order denying Miller’s request to delay the transfer of Isabella, Cohen wrote: “It appears that Ms. Miller has ceased contact with her attorneys and disappeared with the minor child.’’

Miller and Jenkins were joined in a Vermont civil union in 2000. Isabella was born to Miller through artificial insemination in 2002. The couple broke up in 2003, and Miller moved to Virginia, renounced homosexuality, and became an evangelical Christian.

Cohen awarded custody of the girl to Jenkins on Nov. 20 after finding Miller in contempt of court for denying Jenkins access to the girl.

The judge said the only way to ensure equal access to the child was to switch custody. He also said the benefits to the child of having access to both parents would be worth the difficulties of the change.

Through a spokeswoman, Mathew Staver, Miller’s attorney, declined to comment on the case.

A listing for Lisa Miller in Winchester, Va., says the phone line has been temporarily disconnected at the customer’s request.

Jenkins’s attorney, Sarah Star, said she hopes Miller is simply not communicating with her attorneys but plans to comply with the order.

“It is Ms. Jenkins’s intent when she has custody of Isabella to allow as liberal contact as is possible with her other mother,’’ Star said yesterday.

When Cohen dissolved the civil union, he awarded custody to Miller but granted liberal visitation rights to Jenkins.

The supreme courts of Virginia and Vermont ruled in favor of Jenkins, saying the case is the same as a custody dispute between a heterosexual couple. The case was appealed to the US Supreme Court, which declined to hear arguments on it.

If Miller does not turn over Isabella, she would probably be held in contempt of court and a warrant would be issued for her arrest, said Cheryl Hanna, a professor at Vermont Law School.

“The fact that they are a lesbian couple doesn’t mean that the court’s going to treat this any differently than if they were a heterosexual couple,’’ she said.