Woman ordered to pay support
By Alan J. Keays
Staff Writer | January 14,2007
A Virginia woman may not consider her former partner living in Vermont a parent to her child, but that didn't stop a court from ordering the Vermont woman to pay her child support.
The child support order filed last month in Rutland Family Court calls for Janet Miller-Jenkins of Fair Haven to pay $240 a month to her former partner, Lisa Miller-Jenkins, the biological parent to the 4-year-old child, Isabella, she conceived by artificial insemination while the couple were joined in a Vermont civil union.
The national headline-making case stems from the civil union breakup with between former partner and centers on their parental rights with regard to the child, who now lives in Virginia with Lisa Miller-Jenkins.
The child support order is the most recent ruling in the case, which at times has had featured conflicting decisions in Virginia and Vermont.
In addition to the $240 monthly child support payment, the order splits the child's medical and other health expenses that are unreimbursable by insurance. The order calls for Lisa Miller-Jenkins to pay 73 percent of the expenses and Janet Miller-Jenkins to pay the remaining 27 percent.
Attorneys with Liberty Counsel in Virginia, which is representing Lisa Miller-Jenkins, declined to comment on the ruling other than to say they are aware it had been issued.
Michael Mello, a professor at Vermont Law School who authored a book on the legal debate over same-sex marriage, said he was not too surprised with the child support order.
"It makes sense. If you took the civil union and the same sex couple out of the equation, I don't think it would be unusual," he said. "The very routineness of it is what makes it remarkable."
Mello said he wasn't sure if Lisa Miller-Jenkins accepted the monthly payment that she would be agreeing that Janet Miller-Jenkins is a parent to the child.
"That's where it gets tricky. So much of this is uncharted," he said. "It wouldn't look good atmospherically for the woman from the Virginia, the biological mom, to accept the money because it is an implicit acknowledgement that this relationship existed."
Although a Vermont family court granted Janet Miller-Jenkins visitation rights in 2004, later that year a Virginia court issued a contradictory ruling, leading to a battle over which state had jurisdiction in the matter.
Lisa and Janet Miller-Jenkins had been living in Virginia when they agreed five years ago to enter into a civil union in Vermont. The couple then returned to Virginia and decided Lisa would conceive a child through artificial insemination.
Isabella was born in Virginia in April 2002, and the two women moved to Vermont where they broke up, filing to dissolve their civil union in Rutland Family Court.
Lisa Miller-Jenkins, who describes herself as a former lesbian, had moved with the child back to Virginia, where civil unions are not recognized. In Virginia, she sought a declaration of herself as Isabella's sole parent.
A Virginia judge granted her request and contended that the Virginia Marriage Affirmation Act barred recognition of civil unions.
Janet Miller-Jenkins fought the Virginia action, arguing that a court in Vermont already had taken jurisdiction in the case and it should be heard in Rutland Family Court, where it was first filed.
In a ruling issued late last year a Virginia appeals court agreed that Vermont courts have jurisdiction, but Lisa Miller-Jenkins's attorneys have said they intend to appeal that ruling to Virginia's highest court, the Virginia Supreme Court.
Rutland Family Court Judge William Cohen last year also found Lisa Miller-Jenkins in contempt for failing to abide by a temporary visitation order he issued earlier in the case.
Attorneys for Lisa Miller-Jenkins have said that contempt order can't be enforced until all appeals are exhausted in Virginia in their bid to have that state take jurisdiction in the matter.
Contact Alan J. Keays at firstname.lastname@example.org.