A woman at the center of a complex dispute with her former lesbian partner defied a court order to give up custody of her 7-year-old daughter Friday, opening the door to possible criminal charges.
A Vermont judge had ordered Lisa Miller to turn over daughter Isabella to Janet Jenkins at 1 p.m. Friday at the Falls Church, Va., home of Jenkins’ parents. Miller did not show up with the girl, according to Fairfax County, Va., police and Jenkins’ Vermont-based attorney.
“She’s very disappointed, obviously,” said Sarah Star, Jenkins’ lawyer. “She’s very concerned about Isabella and asks that if anybody sees Isabella, that they please contact the authorities.”
The Jenkins family called police after Miller failed to show. A detective interviewed the family and determined that Fairfax County authorities would not be investigating the girl’s whereabouts because of jurisdictional concerns, said Officer Tawny Wright, a police spokeswoman.
Star said she had also contacted authorities in Rutland County, Vt., where Jenkins lives, and Bedford County, Va., where Miller was living the last time Jenkins knew her whereabouts. Wright said it would be up to authorities in those counties to decide whether to investigate.
If police believe a crime has been committed, they would obtain a criminal warrant charging Miller with parental abduction. For the time being, the case remains a civil matter.
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.
When Vermont Family Court Judge William Cohen dissolved the couple’s 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.
Cohen awarded custody 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.
But Cohen also noted that it appeared Miller had stopped speaking to her attorneys and “disappeared” with the child.
Miller’s last known address is in Forest, Va. A telephone number listed for her at that address rang unanswered Friday.
Her attorney, Mathew D. Staver, the law school dean at Liberty University, did not respond to a request through an assistant for comment.
Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor who has followed the case, said it was likely the Vermont judge would issue another contempt order in the wake of Friday’s developments.