A family court in Vermont ordered a woman to pay $240 a month in child support to her former lesbian partner. The court had previously ruled that the woman has the right to visit the child.
The two women, Janet Jenkins and Lisa Miller, entered into a civil union in Vermont in 2002. Lisa Miller then became pregnant by artificial insemination. When the child was 1-year old, the women broke up. Miller filed for dissolution of the civil union. She moved with the child to Virginia, renounced her lesbianism, and refused to allow Janet Jenkins, her former partner, to visit the child.
In June 2004, a Vermont family court issued a temporary order giving primary custody of the child to Miller, and allowing Jenkins visitation rights. Miller then brought a case in a Virginia court, which gave Miller sole custody of the child on the grounds that Virginia does not recognize same-sex unions. Last year, however, a Virginia appeals court ruled that Vermont courts have jurisdiction, a ruling that Miller plans to appeal.
Jenkins says that she will ask for full custody of the child, who is now 4-years old.
Vermont was the first state to legalize same-sex unions. According to the State of Vermont, “Parties to a civil union will have all the same benefits, protections and responsibilities under Vermont law as are granted to spouses in a marriage.”
Couples who wish to terminate a civil union “would follow the same procedures as a married couple by filing for a dissolution of the civil union in family court. The family court will have jurisdiction over all matters related to the dissolution of the civil union, including child custody and support, and property division and maintenance.”
That is exactly what is happening here, with the Vermont court treating this as if it were a marriage. The complications that have arisen are because of the questions about which state, Vermont or Virginia, has jurisdiction over the case, and about what happens when one state recognizes same-sex civil unions and the other state does not.
In July, 2004, Virginia enacted a “Marriage Affirmation Act” which prohibits civil unions between people of the same sex. It also goes further and prohibits any other arrangement, even one done by private contracts, which would give the privileges or obligations of marriage to same-sex couples. The Act specifically says that civil unions entered into in other states are void in Virginia. That is why the question of jurisdiction, of which state has the right to rule in this case, is so important.
Lesbian partner ordered to pay child support, pinknews.co.uk, Jan. 15, 2007
Case Tests Handling of Gay Relationships, the Associated Press, Jan. 14, 2007
Vermont woman wants child in lesbian custody case, by David Gram, the Associated Press, Jan. 15, 2007
Vermont Civil Union Resource Guide, http://www.vermontcivilunion.com/union/faq.html
Virginia Court of Appeals Upholds Vermont Visitation Order in Same-Sex Couple’s Interstate Custody Dispute, News Release, American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, Nov. 28, 2006
The Fight Against the Affirmation of Marriage Act, equalityvirginia.org