January 7, 2010
Fathers and Families‘ Ned Holstein, MD discussed the high-profile Miller-Jenkins lesbian custody battle on the Mike McConnell Show on 700 WLW in Cincinnati (1/6/10) and on the Cumulus radio network. To listen to the audio of his McConnell appearance, click here. The Miller-Jenkins case is a landmark and internationally publicized custody dispute, as Miller has disappeared with her 7-year-old daughter to evade a court order to give the girl to her former lesbian partner.
According to ABC News’ Mom and Daughter Go AWOL in Lesbian Custody Case (1/1/09):
Lisa Miller, 41, of Winchester, Va., was ordered by a Vermont family court judge to hand over her daughter Isabella to Janet Jenkins , 45, of Fairhaven, VT…The child is at the center of a landmark custody battle between two women she calls “Mommy,” the first case to address same-sex unions when the parents cross state lines. Miller and Jenkins were married in a civil union ceremony in Vermont in 2000. They split in 2004 when Isabella was 17 months old… Miller, who is the biological mother through artificial insemination, fled to Virginia, where those civil unions are not recognized. There, she denounced homosexuality and became an evangelical Christian. The custody battle has raged ever since. When the civil union was dissolved, the Vermont judge awarded custody to Miller but granted liberal visitation rights to Jenkins. But after Miller failed to show up for scheduled parental visits at Jenkins’ home, the court reversed the ruling on Nov. 20 and awarded custody to Jenkins. The supreme courts of Virginia and Vermont ruled in favor of Jenkins, saying the case was the same as a custody dispute between a heterosexual couple…
Though it has surprised some, Fathers & Families, America’s largest family court reform organization, has worked to support Janet Jenkins from the beginning. Fathers & Families’ Board Chairman Ned Holstein, MD, a Harvard-trained public health specialist, explains:
Most of Miller’s tactics in driving Jenkins out of their daughter’s lives are quite common–the only difference is that this time the target is a lesbian social mom instead of a noncustodial father. Millions of children have their access to their noncustodial parents interfered with or blocked by custodial parents. Miller violated visitation orders for years, moved far away from Jenkins, and pushed Isabella’s grandparents out of their lives.
Miller is, of course, entitled to choose her own sexuality and religion. But she chose to have a child with Jenkins and shouldn’t be able to obliterate this because it doesn’t fit in with her new beliefs. And however one feels about gay marriage, it is enormously damaging to children to have one of the two people they love the most in the world — a parent — ripped out of their lives. The saddest part is that children usually blame themselves, asking, “What did I do to make mom not want to be with me anymore?”
What’s needed are strong legal protections for parent-child bonds. This begins with a rebuttable presumption of shared custody after a divorce or separation. Under this presumption, as long as both parents are fit, they will both have the right to share equally in raising their children. These presumptions do exist in some states, but they are generally weak and too easily evaded. Moreover, courts need to enforce their own visitation orders, instead of allowing custodial parents to flout orders year after year with little or no consequence. To learn more about the Miller-Jenkins case, see Dr. Holstein’s co-authored MSN.com column With Gay Marriage Comes Gay Divorce: The Rise of Lesbian Custody Battles.