Mom goes missing in custody battle (with court docs)By Brent Curtis
Read the court documents at: http://rhedit.sx.atl.publicus.com/assets/pdf/RH701001229.PDF
A Rutland Family Court judge has refused to delay an order that transfers custody of a child from a Virginia mother to her former lesbian partner in Fair Haven.
But with the whereabouts of Lisa Miller and 7-year-old Isabella Miller presently "unknown," it remains to be seen whether the first of its kind parent custody switch takes place when the court order takes effect on New Year's Day.
Miller, who renounced homosexuality, and her former partner Janet Jenkins have been battling over visitation rights since they ended their civil union in Vermont in 2003. After the pair split, Miller returned to her home state of Virginia while Jenkins remained in Fair Haven.
After finding Miller in contempt of court earlier this year for denying Jenkins access to Isabella, Judge William Cohen said he decided the only way to ensure the child equal access to both parents was to switch custody and he issued an order requiring the transfer be made by Jan. 1, 2010.
Miller's attorneys filed a motion earlier this month asking Cohen to delay his order until an appeal in the Virginia court system — regarding whether that state needed to enforce the Vermont order — was decided.
But in a two-page decision issued by Cohen, the judge said Miller failed to meet the legal burden required to delay the order in part because she has not appeared in court nor spoken with her attorneys about the case for more than a month.
"Ms. Miller has not demonstrated that she is entitled to a stay. … Instead, it appears that Ms. Miller has ceased contact with her attorneys and disappeared with (Isabella). … Such conduct does not show that a stay is warranted," Cohen wrote.
The whereabouts of Miller couldn't be determined Monday. Miller's principal lawyers in Orlando, Fla., could not be reached Monday afternoon.
Jenkins' attorney, Middlebury lawyer Sarah Star, said she didn't know where Miller was, but hoped she was still at her home in Virginia and was merely not communicating with her attorneys. Asked what would happen if Miller didn't bring Isabella to Jenkins by Jan. 1, Star said she wouldn't speculate about what actions the court might take. However, she said, Jenkins was appealing Miller to comply with the court order.
"My client is asking, almost pleading, Ms. Miller to not make it harder than it is," Star said. "It's a difficult transition but as adults she is asking her to not make it any harder than it needs to be."
Difficulties inherent in the transition — which places Isabella in a home she hasn't lived in since she was an infant — were highlighted in the motion for a stay on the judge's order.
"The potential effect of any change in Isabella's housing, school, community and environment could be to 'induce devastating trauma,'" Liberty Counsel attorney Rena Lindevaldsen said quoting a doctor who testified in the case.
Lindevaldsen also argued that Jenkins had shown a "disdain" for Miller's Christian beliefs — including the belief that homosexuality is a sin. She said Isabella, who attends a Christian school, shares her mother's beliefs.
But Star argued in a counter-filing that Cohen should stick with his original order, which found that the difficulties inherent in the custodial transfer were outweighed by the benefit Isabella would derive from having a relationship with both parents. Jenkins is a legally recognized parent in Vermont.
"(Isabella) has a right to have a relationship with both of her parents and the granting of a stay would further delay reunification," she wrote.
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