family battles

How Janet Jenkins Scored Custody of Her Non-Biological Daughter


The custody saga of Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins has been going on for years. Fighting over their 7-year-old daughter Isabella, the former couple has tested the strength and definition of parenting roles and laws. Miller, who began claiming to be heterosexual after their five-year relationship ended in 2003, is the biological mother and has been petitioning courts all over (Virginia, Vermont) to keep Miller out of her daughter’s life. But Miller argues she’s as much of a parent as her ex-lover. And a court just agreed with her.

It is Jenkins, the non-biological mother, who was just awarded full custody of Isabella in a Virginia court. (She’ll get custody on Jan. 1.)

But it’s not because she’s a more worthy mother, but because Miller refused to let Jenkins even visit Isabella — who was conceived while the pair were together — while the custody proceedings dragged on. And that was enough for Judge William Cohen, who called the battle “a first-of-its kind parent custody change,” to eliminate any chance of Miller hanging on to her daughter.

More interesting, then, that Jenkins was only pushing for visitation rights, and not full custody. Rutland Herald:

After finding Miller in contempt of court earlier this year for denying Jenkins access to Isabella, Cohen said he decided the only way to ensure the child equal access to both parents was to switch custody.

“The court concludes that it is in the best interest of (Isabella) that Ms. Jenkins exercise parental rights and responsibilities,” the judge said. “This court stated that continued interference by Ms. Miller with the relationship between (Isabella) and Ms. Jenkins could lead to a change of circumstances and outweigh the disruption that would occur if a change of custody were ordered.”

[…] “In the long term, the change in custody will be in (Isabella’s) best interests as she will have the opportunity for maximum continuing physical and emotional contact with both parents,” he said, adding that both parents were equal in terms of stability, financial resources, emotional availability and other considerations required for child rearing.

Where they weren’t equal, he said, was in their willingness to work together. While Miller has repeatedly and consistently blocked Jenkins’ access to Isabella, the judge said Jenkins has agreed to allow Miller access and would allow Isabella to continue to attend church events with her other parent.

Miller, meanwhile, has been represented by the vehemently anti-gay Liberty Counsel, and appears intent on appealing.

But while Jenkins will retain custody, Miller will have visitation rights — leaving the former couple in a situation reverse from the original.

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  • andy_d

    Unusually enlighted ruling from the Commonwealth of Virginia.

  • andy_d

    Also: I LOVE how the radical right has ONCE AGAIN shot itself in the foot.

  • Luke

    I think it should read…

    Miller, who began claiming to be heterosexual after their five-year relationship ended in 2003, is the biological mother and has been petitioning courts all over (Virginia, Vermont) to keep JENKINS out of her daughter’s life. But JENKINS argues she’s as much of a parent as her ex-lover. And a court just agreed with her.

  • Alexa

    Wherever it was and whatever mistakes Queerty made in reporting it (par for the course recently), it’s still a fair and just ruling. Very good news.

  • Old Vermonter

    Acutually, this story is more akin to…two alcholics having a child together, one gets sober and decides that the best thing for the child is to remove the child from the unhealthy environment. Then the judge rules that the child is better off with the sick parent because the sober parent has convictions and doesn’t want the child exposed to the other parent who refuses to sober up. The liberal Vermont system twists reality again to make it’s point at the expense of a little child who has no voice. She is being used to push an agenda.

  • Justice

    this is a terrible ruling for chidren everywhere. What kind of monster takes a child away from their mother. This is terrible. It has nothing to do with gay rights. This is a human rights violation for the child. Anyone who would support ripping a child from their mother ought to put themselve in the position of that poor child.

    Picture yourself as a little girl, happy with her life. Then some other person, regardless of who it is, decides they want you to live with them.

    You would be horrified at being treated like a piece of personal property.

    Anyone who thinks this is a good thing should have their head examined.

    It would also be great if everyone who is cheering for this decision could be yanked out of their home and be forced to live with someone else against their will.

  • reluctantcommenter

    who says the child doesn’t want to live with jenkins? or won’t be happier with her? miller is a sick woman and shouldn’t be allowed to raise any children.

  • Raven

    @Old Vermonter:

    I can understand how horrible it must seem that this child will be raised in a loving household instead of denying it a brainwashing hate infested household. With time even old vermonters will die off and leave the younger generations who already have more love in their hearts than hatred to make the just decisions.

  • scott ny'er

    Interesting case. It does seem unfair that Miller wouldn’t let Jenkins see the child. Unless there was something wrong with Jenkins that would harm the child, it’s not correct. So, the judgment was a creative solution that I normally wouldn’t be for. But, if Jenkins is the more clear-headed of the pair, then so be it.

  • silverside

    Look, it’s easy to pick on the biological mother. We don’t like her religious beliefs, we don’t like her politics. But the fact remains that is is dangerous precedent for mothers, who under increasing pressure to “cooperate” with ex’s regarding their children, REGARDLESS of the ex’s history of abuse, alcoholism, and abuse. Please familiarize yourself with the fathers rights movement and their war on women–just because you don’t identify yourself as heterosexual doesn’t mean that you aren’t in their crosshairs. This case needs to be looked at in this larger context. Plus, regardless of how we feel about mom’s politics/religious beliefs, there is NO evidence that this child was not loved and well cared for. Basically we are granting the courts the power to take children from loving homes, the only loving home they have ever known, to punish the “uncooperative” parent, and totally disrupt the life of the child. I don’t like that biological fathers have this power under this system–regardless of the role they have played in the child’s life and some are frankly no more than sperm donors–and I think lesbians are pursuing a disastrous policy when they want to identify the non-birth parent/mother with the powers that fathers have in our society, which is rooted in patriarchal concepts of power over women and children.

  • TommyOC


    Listen, it’s apparent you’ve got something against men, or at least father figures. Granted, there are plenty of abusive, alcoholic men out there. But the same can be said of women. Your criticism of the fathers rights movements are misplaced at best and ill-formed at worst.

    When two equally competent parents want equal custody of their children, the mother gets preferential treatment the majority of the time. The fathers are restricted access, at no fault of their own, simply because they aren’t deemed as important to the child’s rearing. Agree with it or not, but a quality father is deserving of equal time with their child. Even if the mother proves to uncooperative with the court, she’s given the benefit of the doubt.

    All the while, the father is expected to pay child support – even if he gets nothing out the deal.

    It’s well-known in my area that the court you bring your custody case through may very well determine the outcome. There are some courts that are vehemently anti-father. Others give them the equal chance they deserve. My friends who have gone through divorce proceeds (two females, one male) all say they’re advised such when they consult their attorneys. The father even *moved* so he could reside in the jurisdiction of a court that would be more impartial to his case.

    Had the case above been a heterosexual one, it’s an arguable point on whether the biological mother would have been stripped of her custody so quickly for non-compliance. It’s my thinking that the judge decided to swap one mother for another in a no-harm-done decision.

    And that should insult two groups: Biological mothers. And men.

    That said, the decision was right. No one has the right to deny parental privileges to an otherwise qualified person.

  • Old Vermonter

    @ raven where did hate come into this? it is about what is best for the child! heterosexual means hater? Vermont is full of love and people concerned with giving the children a chance for the future… not about promoting selfish ephemeral relationships.

  • 1EqualityUSA

    Old Vermonter, It’s quite usual to have gays likened to some kind of undesirable disease such as, alcoholism. What a shit head you are. Bigot. Go knock back a stiff one.

  • vawnews

    “When two equally competent parents want equal custody of their children, the mother gets preferential treatment the majority of the time.”

    This is what the FAIL is right here. This cannot be about equal COMPETENCE because it skips an entire relevant HISTORY of who was primarily providing for the child’s needs. On a surface level, anyone with a job, decent money, and basic skills can be considered competent. If one person has already been doing the majority of the work, we cannot assume we are starting from equal points.

    “Equal time”? This isn’t a game, this is a life. If your role was bringing in the dough, and playing a little peak a boo game for 15 minutes daily, then that’s what it should continue to be.

  • Alexa

    Bottom line as far as the child is concerned, she was being denied access to one parent, now she is being allowed access to both. If her biological mother had allowed her former partner visitation with the child, they would not be in this position now. The judge acted in the best interests of the child.

  • silverside

    I am not anti-father. I am pro-mother and support the parent who went through a pregnancy, gave birth, and nurtured the infant. I am deeply sceptical of those persons intent on stripping mothers of their children. These are the people who have contributed very little to the child in many cases yet have another agenda which involves hurting, controlling, and/ or punishing the mother. These are the people who scream about being “excluded,” but the go on to do the exact same excluding behavior they said they objected to and exclude the mother. Some non-mothers pursue custody out of concern for some real or perceived mistreatment of the child. But persons with histories of domestic violence are heavily overrepresented among non-mothers pursuing custody because it’s a way to continue their abuse of their former partner. The fathers rights movement is deeply entrenched with these people, and for the record the are very anti-gay, anti-woman, and very often linked to the Christian Right. They often say pretty things about “shared” parenting, but this is a ruse. Read what they say in their forums. They want mandatory father custody and a rollback in women’s rights. They want a traditional family where mothers are under the thumbs of the fathers.

    I am very concerned about reproducing the same patriarchal assumptions in the LBGT community, that children do not belong to those who bore them, but to those who made a 5 minute sperm donation, held the turkey basted, etc. People who in many cases have played a minimal to non-existent role in the child’s life, yet demand rights “equal” to the parent who has been there from the beginning. And I especially dislike persons who would turn children into personal posessions, and completely disrespect and disregard the primary attachment she has forged with her mother just to prove their point or agenda.

  • Alexa

    Silverside, with your personal agenda you are completely disregarding the rights and needs of the child. The non-biological parent in this case wanted visitation with her daughter, which the biological parent refused. It was the biological parent’s selfishness and disregard for what is best for the child that caused her to lose custody.

  • Justice


    It is your agenda that is in the wrong. The Supreme Court has ruled on this also that no one should interfere with bioogical parents rights in Troxel v Granville.

    There is another stupid custody decision in the news in Chicago now too, where a babysitter has been awarded custody.

    So according to your thinking, any person who desires to have a relationship with another person’s biological child has the right to go to court and demand THEIR timesharing as if the child is a commodity.

    This forces biological parents to repeatedly have to defend with INTERLOPERS.

    Children have primary attachments. This society is in a sad state when the mother-child relationship is so meaningless. It is unbelievable to have to defend NATURE.

    Children have been raised by MOTHERS going back thousands and thousands of year…to the beginning of humanity I reckon.

    It has worked for as long as humans have been around. Anyone who dare to take a child from a fit parent is a monster on the order of Harry Harlow. He was the sick psychologists who did the maternal deprivation experiments with chimps. It’s listed in the top 10 most unethical psych experiments ever.

    So anyone who severs a mother-child bond is a monster.

  • silverside

    So now the child loses the only mother she has ever known–not because mom is abusive or neglectful under any credible standard but because she is “selfish” and “won’t share.” This decision is pure trauma to the child and is abusive in and of itself, I’m tired of seeing mothers penalized and losing custody on bogus accusations of not being nice enough, not being accommodating enough. Is this starting to ring a bell in terms of oppressive, old-fashioned ideas directed towards women? You are treading on dangerous ground my friend. And note that these accusations are seldom effective when leveled at fathers, even when a father has shut off visitation, badmouthed, etc. These tactics only work when they are targeted towards mothers. Unfortunately some in the lesbian community no longer want to identify with women and mothers and would rather have the privileges granted to fathers in patriarchal societies, which is authority and control of the children born to “their” woman.

  • Alexa

    Oh for God’s sake, Justice, she’s not some random interloper, she’s the child’s other parent. By your standards you could take any adopted child away from its parents. And I have no agenda beyond what is best for the child, and everything I have read on this case suggests this was the right decision.

    Sorry, Silverside, but denying a child contact with a parent for no good reason is abusive and should not be tolerated. Stop parroting your agenda for a moment and think about what is best for the child. And anyway, in this case, the only reason Janet Jenkins hasn’t seen the child is because the biological mother refused, so what you are suggesting is rewarding her selfishness.

  • vawnews

    How can the judge have possibly acted in the best interests of a child who had one primary attachment to a mother, from whom she has been ripped? Please explain.

    Please explain how, exactly, no visitation with the non-biological parent is depriving a child of “rights” and “needs”?

    Please explain how the child benefits from being punished by a complete custody switch from his/her mother? And why, because of the actions of her biological parent, must this child now must suffer?

    What parenting defects did the biological mother have that would make this the “right decision”?

    How do we, as outsiders, and even a judge, as an outside, be certain that this is what is best for this child?

  • Justice

    What Alexa wants is the father’s rights agenda…to take children away from their mothers for leaving them.

    It’s a punishment.

    This must be patriarchy reasserted the LGBT way.

    You must not have a child of your own Alexa, otherwise the thought of having an exlover take your baby away would fill you with revulsion.

  • vawnews

    How exactly is denying contact “abusive”?

    Who gets to decide what is abusive, or not?

    If we are expanding the definition of abuse, won’t this allow for more intrusion into family matters, by our government?

  • vawnews

    What is up with the title of this article?

    “Scored Custody”


  • Justice

    The title of the article is…abusive!

    Children are not prizes, they are human beings.

    The whole thing is sick!

  • Justice

    How dare you call a mother spending time with her child selfish!

    It’s twisted. You’re thinking is that a woman should pop out a child like a broodmare, and the rest of the world should all decide the fate of the child.

    Women who have children should be revered, and the mother-child bond needs to be respected as the most important thing in their lives.

    A mother would give her life for her child. How selfish and sick for other people to destroy the natural bond of love and security between the mother and child.

    As far as adopted children go, if a mother VOLUNTARILY gives up a child because she is unable to care for that child, then hopefully the child gains a loving mother by adoption.

    It is quite a different matter between forcefully taking a child from a mother who is caring for her child.

  • Alexa

    Wow. There are some seriously twisted people in this thread. Stop reading things into my words and ascribing motives and agendas to me that don’t exist simply because I don’t agree with your agendas.

  • vawnews

    and yet, questions still unanswered. easy to pass judgement when you dont have the knowledge to back up your assertions.

    be careful of the ground on which you’ re treading.

    dangerous precedent

  • Nancy Carroll

    How can anyone think this was the right decision when a child is taken from her loving mother…..apparently Jenkins didn’t even think so, as she asked for visitation. The judge is the one who decided to change custody. It is judges like this with God complexes that think they are going to control and punish mothers that have to be dealt with. Many judges like this are biased against mothers, and seek to take children and award them like a door prize to anyone, be it a dad, a lesbian lover, or even a babysitter (yes, I’ve seen a judge take children from a mom and give custody to babysitter, thankfully it was reversed in a higher court). This isn’t an anti-father, whatever comment. This is happening all over. Mothers are at a disadvantage in any court anymore…mothers need to detach, visit sperm banks to get pregnant, and to not become involved with anyone. Chances are anyone….ANYONE….will come take your child away. Jenkins ought to be ashamed of herself if she buys into this decision, because the child will know one day what was done to her and her mother.

  • J.R.

    a patriarchal view in a homosexual relationship…typical

  • Patrick

    How is this ruling fair and just. This has nothing to do with rights for every orientation. It has everything to do with courts out of control. Why didn’t she adopt the child. If she had then I’d have no issue with the ruling on it’s face. This sets a very dangerous precedent that will allow every ex regardless of sexual orientation who is not the biological or adoptive parent to harass ex partners. If this was really about caring for a child why didn’t she adopted.

  • Kurt McGraw

    I find it interesting that your version of the story fails to mention that for five years Janet Jenkins showed no interest in the child. Never sending a card, calling on the phone, or even sending an e-mail to ask how she was doing. If she had shown interest over the five years in seeing the child I would have a different opinion of this case however a biological father would be denied custody of a child if he showed no interest over five years in seeing that child.

  • krissy

    What church made her renounce her homosexuality? Was it evangelical? We all know it was. What was the name of that church?

  • krissy

    yeah she paid child support and was refused visitation so she could be raised a yeshiva warrior like her ma.

  • Wen

    @33 if Jenkins had and showed no interest in the child, then can you explain why she wanted visitation rights?
    Sounds to me the judge made the correct decision in this.

  • impartial

    No matter which side you take, it seems that the comments here are lacking in one important fact: Jenkins is not now nor was she ever the child’s mother. She did not contribute biologically and she never adopted her. It’s no different than if Miller’s boyfriend came to live with her and she got pregnant, a la turkey baster, and then he claims to be the child’s father.

  • nancy

    The question is why a once-lesbian woman became adverse to her daughter spending time with her former partner, after being open to it, initially. Were the accusations of abuse valid? As uncomfortable as that is, we do have to take a closer look.

    I sympathize with Janet Jenkins, but she did not help her case – and ours, as a whole – by rushing into nude bonding (she and her daughter bathed together) or showing her films that would give the other parent an excuse to get reactionary.

    There would be plenty of time for enlightenment later on AFTER custody had been secured! That said, what is best for the child? There is no evidence that the child is not well cared for and loved with her biological mother.

    It’s really too bad they could not have worked this out in a way that set an example of gay/straight co-parenting.

Comments are closed.