Recent U.S. Supreme Court Interstate Custody case

U.S. Supreme Court refuses to intervene in interstate custody case

The U.S. Supreme Court today let stand decisions made by the Virginia Court of Appeals and a lower court that require that child custody orders from a Vermont court must be complied with in a long-running custody dispute over a child born during the civil union of two Vermont women.

The case was heard in Virginia because the biological mother, Lisa Miller, moved here after the couple separated and asked a Virginia Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court to nullify visitation arrangements for the non-biological mother, Janet Jenkins, as set forth by the Vermont Family Court. The ACLU of Virginia and the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund represent Jenkins in Virginia.

Lisa Miller initially filed a case in a Vermont court, which ruled that Miller’s former partner, Janet Jenkins, should have visitation with the child. Jenkins had acted as the child’s parent since her birth. Miller refused to comply with that order, and instead filed a new action in a Virginia court.

The Virginia Court of Appeals and the Virginia and Vermont Supreme Courts have issued rulings holding that Vermont has sole jurisdiction over the matter and that Virginia must honor the Vermont court’s rulings. Under federal law, a state court may not interfere with an ongoing custody proceeding in another state.

“In declining to review the case for the fifth time, the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that they do not need to weigh in on this dispute and that the law is quite clear on this matter – one state must honor decisions made by another state’s courts,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis.

In a related ruling, the Vermont Supreme Court on Oct. 29, 2010, affirmed the transfer of custody from Miller to Jenkins. In part because Miller had repeatedly refused to allow Jenkins to visit with the child, a Vermont court late last year ordered that custody be transferred. When Miller failed to transfer the child to Jenkins and disappeared with the child, the court issued a contempt ruling and an arrest warrant.

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