Behind the recent highly-publicized ruling in a Virginia/Vermont lesbian child custody battle is a sad but delicious irony. As I explained in my co-authored column Ruling in Vermont Same-Sex Child Custody Case: Lesbian Moms, Divorced Dads in Same Boat (Rutland Herald, Montpelier-Barre Times Argus, 12/10/06, Danville Register & Bee, 12/22/06, and others):
“The former couple, Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins, joined in a same-sex civil union in Vermont in 2000 and had a child together in 2002. After their breakup, Miller, the biological mother, moved to Virginia with their daughter Isabella, won sole custody, and excluded Jenkins from the girl’s life…
“During Jenkins’ and Miller’s same sex-union Jenkins did everything she could do to be a good parent to their child. She was involved with the pregnancy from the beginning, was present in the delivery room, worked to support the family, and played an important role in Isabella’s life. Following their breakup she was granted visitation rights but Miller refused to comply. After Tuesday’s ruling, Miller’s side vowed to further appeal the case to deny Jenkins access to the girl. Miller says she does not want Jenkins to have any visitation rights, and has not allowed her to see their daughter since 2004.”
According to details of the case provided in this article in the Washington Blade, a prominent gay newspaper, Miller’s actions read like a checklist of what heterosexual women do to the fathers of their children:
1) Move the child far way from the child’s noncustodial parent after the divorce or separation–check.
2) Deny the noncustodial parent the opportunity to visit or co-parent the child–check.
3) Make an unsupported, dubious and oh-so-convenient accusation of abuse against the noncustodial parent–check.
4) Pretend that the noncustodial parent is out-of-line or acting against the child’s best interests by wanting to continue the relationship with the child–check.
Other familiar highlights include: the relationship was ended by the child’s birth mother, just as most marriages are ended by mothers, not fathers; and the relationship soured because–guess what–the birth mother was hormonal and unstable during and after her pregnancy.
Like most divorced dads, Jenkins soft-pedals her ex-partner’s appalling behavior, trying to avoid conflict in the interests of their child. She says that if she does win custody (which she should), she will be very careful to make sure that her former partner’s relationship with her daughter is protected and respected.
Echoing the words of millions of divorced fathers, Jenkins says:
“I would rather not be going to court. I had no idea anything like this would happen.”
“I would never abandon Isabella. She has no power over this situation and didn’t choose it. It is time to behave like adults and do what is best for her. It’s only been about Isabella. I miss her and have high hopes we will be together soon.”
As I wrote in the column, “ladies, welcome to the club.”