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Vt. judge: Birth mom must give child to ex-partner

FILE - In this April 17, 2008 file photo, Lisa Miller answers questions about her custody battle during a news conference immediately following arguments for her case before the court at the State Capitol in Richmond, Va. 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. Vermont Family Court Judge William Cohen ordered Lisa Miller of Winchester, Va., to turn over daughter Isabella to Janet Jenkins of Fair Haven at 1 p.m. EST Friday Jan. 1, 2010 at the Virginia home of Jenkins' parents. FILE - In this April 17, 2008 file photo, Lisa Miller answers questions about her custody battle during a news conference immediately following arguments for her case before the court at the State Capitol in Richmond, Va. 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. Vermont Family Court Judge William Cohen ordered Lisa Miller of Winchester, Va., to turn over daughter Isabella to Janet Jenkins of Fair Haven at 1 p.m. EST Friday Jan. 1, 2010 at the Virginia home of Jenkins' parents. (AP Photo/Lisa Billings, File)
By Wilson Ring
Associated Press Writer / December 29, 2009

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MONTPELIER, Vt.—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 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 daughter Isabella to Janet Jenkins of Fair Haven at 1 p.m. Friday at the Virginia home of Jenkins' 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.

Mathew Staver, Miller's attorney, declined through a spokeswoman 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' 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' intent when she has custody of Isabella to allow as liberal contact as is possible with her other mother," Star said Tuesday.

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 was the same as a custody dispute between a heterosexual couple. The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear arguments on it.

If Miller does not turn over Isabella, the most likely scenerio is that she would be held in contempt of court and a warrant would be issued for her arrest, said Cheryl Hanna, a professor of constitutional law at Vermont Law School.

"I think the underlying thing is 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.

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Associated Press writers Steve Szkotak in Richmond, Va., and Lisa Rathke in Montpelier, Vt., contributed to this report.