In Defense of Janet Jenkins, Lesbian Mom

 [In October, 2006, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court heard a custody dispute between two lesbian women over a child they had both helped raise. Although plaintiff A.H. was not the biological mother of the child, she had been deeply involved in raising the child, and the child was closely bonded to her. Fathers and Families supported A.H.”s right to continue as a de facto parent after the couple split up. Although Fathers & Families has taken no position on same-sex parenting in general, once a close bond between a de facto parent and a child has been formed, we think it is harmful to the child to break this bond. So we wrote a detailed amicus brief supporting the child”s right to continue to have A.H. as a de facto parent–to read it, click here.   
A second piece of this puzzle was that A.H. had served as the main breadwinner in this family. Some influential legal authorities, such as the American Law Institute, hold that breadwinning does not qualify one for custody or visitation rights. This archaic view works against any parent who shoulders the economic responsibilities of a family. So our brief detailed how this legal nonsense works against children’s best interests.
Unfortunately, the high court of Massachusetts found against A.H. It did state, however, that the anti-breadwinning principle may not be an appropriate way to make custody and visitation decisions for married parents who are divorcing. This is a potentially important statement. Sadly, recent reports suggest that the biological mom has cut A.H. off almost completely from the child.
Now comes a similar story from Glenn Sacks, but this time from Vermont and Virginia.–Ned Holstein, M.D., M.S.]

Virginia–According to Virginia Supreme Court to Weigh in on Lesbian Couple’s Custody Battle (, April 15, 2008):

“The Virginia Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Thursday in a case involving a lesbian couple fighting over who gets full custody of a five-year-old girl. Janet Jenkins, former partner of Lisa Miller, is suing for custody of Miller’s biological daughter even though Jenkins is not an adoptive or biological parent.

“Jenkins and Miller (pictured with their baby) entered into a Vermont civil union in 2000 while living in Virginia. Miller got pregnant through artificial insemination from an anonymous donor and gave birth to her daughter in Virginia. The relationship eventually ended.”

I’ve covered this case on numerous occasions. After their breakup, Miller, the biological mother, moved to Virginia with their daughter Isabella, won sole custody, and excluded Jenkins from the girl”s life. Miller”s actions read like a checklist of what heterosexual women sometimes do to the fathers of their children, including: move the child far away; deny the noncustodial parent the opportunity to visit or co-parent the child; make an unsupported, dubious and oh-so-convenient accusation of abuse against the noncustodial parent; and pretend that the noncustodial parent is out-of-line or acting against the child”s best interests by wanting to continue the relationship with the child.

In my co-authored column, Ruling in Vermont Same-Sex Child Custody Case: Lesbian Moms, Divorced Dads in Same Boat (Rutland Herald & various others, 12/10/06), I supported lesbian social mom Janet Jenkins in her struggle to remain a part of her daughter’s life. I wrote:

“In a highly-publicized new decision, a Virginia appeals court ruled recently in favor of a lesbian social/non-biological mother in her custody battle against her child”s biological mother. The former couple, Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins, joined in a same-sex civil union in Vermont in 2000 and had a child together in 2002. After their breakup, Miller, the biological mother, moved to Virginia with their daughter Isabella, won sole custody, and excluded Jenkins from the girl”s life.

“Opponents of gay marriage, gay activists and the media have focused almost exclusively on the new decision”s impact on same-sex marriage. Lost in this, however, is the fact that the case is a textbook example of one of America”s greatest social problems–the refusal of many divorcing mothers to allow their children to continue to have a relationship with their former spouses.

“During Jenkins” and Miller”s same sex-union Jenkins did everything she could do to be a good parent to their child. She was involved with the pregnancy from the beginning, was present in the delivery room, worked to support the family, and played an important role in Isabella”s life. Following their breakup she was granted visitation rights but Miller refused to comply. After the new ruling, Miller’s side vowed to further appeal the case to deny Jenkins access to the girl. Miller says she does not want Jenkins to have any visitation rights, and has not allowed her to see their daughter since 2004.

“Increasingly, other lesbian social mothers are suffering similar injustices. For example, in the A.H. v. M.P. case currently before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the trial court ruled against A.H., a lesbian social mother, who had been the primary breadwinner for her partner M.P. and their young son. After separation M.P. sought to minimize A.H.’s role in the boy”s life, arguing that since A.H. was not the child”s primary caregiver, she should not receive joint custody of the boy…

“The problems heterosexual mothers create for their children and their ex-partners have been largely ignored, partly due to misleading stereotypes of abusive and/or ‘deadbeat’ fathers. Today fit, loving, lesbian social mothers like Jenkins and A.H. and their children face similar mistreatment. Ladies, welcome to the club.”

To learn more, see my blog posts Lesbian Mom Describes How She Got the Dad Treatment, Part I & Part II.

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