Commentary

The Tragic Case of Lisa Miller’s encounter with Vermont Family Court

Lisa Miller, united in civil union in Vermont in 2000, gave birth to Isabelle in 2002 after artificial insemination. After a custody battle she fled to Nicaragua with Isabelle. With Isabelle now of legal age, Miller has surrendered to American authorities in Nicaragua and is in federal detention in Miami, facing kidnapping charges.

BREAKPOINT

02/16/21

by John Stonestreet and Roberto Rivera

(Editor’s note: The following op-ed was published today by John Stonestreet and Roberto Rivera of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Vermont Daily is a sponsor of Breakpoint, the daily radio program of the Colson Center, on the Light Radio, located in Essex Junction. The show typically airs at about 6:55 AM Monday-Friday, and on weekday evenings as well.)

Last month, after more than ten years in hiding, Lisa Miller surrendered herself to American authorities at the U. S. Embassy in Managua, Nicaragua. Miller, now in custody at the federal detention center in Miami, faces kidnapping and conspiracy charges. She’ll likely be found guilty but, in reality, she’s a victim of bad ideas. A mom, attempting to protect her daughter from her own bad choices and our society’s attempt to redefine marriage, parenting, and the family.

The legal case is as complicated as the story behind it. In 2000, Miller and her partner Janet Jenkins moved from Virginia to Vermont to take advantage of Vermont’s civil union law. Two years later, Miller bore a child, Isabella, conceived through artificial insemination. A year later, in 2003, Miller and Jenkins separated. Miller then moved back to Virginia with her daughter, who was only 17-months old.

In 2004, Miller and Jenkins asked the Vermont Family Court to legally dissolve their civil union. The court agreed and awarded Miller primary custody. However, in an unprecedented move, the court awarded visitation rights to Jenkins. 

To that point, though she had agreed to pay child support, Jenkins had no legally recognized parental relationship with Isabella. She had only lived with Isabella during the first year of the child’s life, but the court treated Jenkins as if she were a biological or adoptive parent. It’s difficult to image a court doing this, for example, in the case of an unrelated live-in boyfriend. 

Later that year, a Virginia court ruled that Miller was Isabella’s sole legal parent. However, Jenkins appealed, arguing that the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act required Virginia to honor the Vermont court’s ruling. Also at play was the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, a federal statute designed to prevent states from being forced to recognize the civil unions of other states. Despite all this, in the end, the Virginia Supreme Court sided with Jenkins. 

By this time, Miller had become a Christian. Not wanting her daughter exposed to the lesbian lifestyle of her former partner, Miller defied the order of the Vermont court and denied Jenkins visitation. In response, Vermont awarded Jenkins primary custody of Isabella. 

In 2009, Miller fled the United States with Isabella who was, by then, seven years old. With the help of a Mennonite pastor, they first crossed the border into Canada and then made their way to Nicaragua, where they have lived since fleeing the U.S. Now that Isabella is 18 years old, the court’s custody order no longer applies. 

The parental kidnapping charges, on the other hand, do still apply to Miller. Before turning herself in, her final appeal was to the Trump administration for a pardon, which the President did not grant. As she must have known in surrendering herself to the U.S. embassy, mercy from the state of Vermont is highly unlikely.

In a very real sense, this is a story about consequences. Miller is still dealing with the consequences of entering a relationship that was by definition sterile and then demanding a child. She’s also facing the cost of repenting and following Christ, something our Lord tells us to “count” before following Him. She’s facing the consequences of her commitment to protect her daughter from the damage of her previous lifestyle. Out of legal options, she chose to disobey the state as long as necessary in order to protect her daughter, but she’s also accepting the consequences of her disobedience. For Christians in the days ahead, Miller’s story, especially her choices and their consequences, offer incredibly important lessons.

At the same time, Miller is facing consequences of a culture, especially as it is reflected in decisions made by our courts and the legislature, legalizing same-sex unions and sacrifice the well-being of children on the altars of adult desires. No real thought was given to the impact these irregular unions would have on children, never mind what could happen to kids after these unions dissolve. Custody fights are always nasty, even when there is a biological connection! Only when same-sex unions are involved do we pretend as if a biological connection is irrelevant.

As I often say, ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have victims. It’s hard to think to think of a better example than the tragic case of Lisa and Isabella Miller. 

Please pray for the Millers.


Resources:

Lisa Miller, mother in kidnapping case, in U.S. custody

Charissa Koh | World Magazine | February 5, 2021

Fugitive mother in Vt. custody case being held after over a decade on run

Alan J. Keays | Valley News | February 8, 2021

Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act

Wikipedia |. 2021

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3 replies »

  1. I feel for Ms Miller and her daughter. As a mother, I totally understand and support her desire to do right by her daughter. I’d imagine that VT, in an effort to show its support for alternative lifestyles, will attempt to punish her harshly, even though she isn’t a danger or threat to anyone, while routinely releasing dangerous offenders.

  2. I’m a Father, a Grandfather and a Great Grandfather. It’s very easy to have empathy for Ms Miller. At the same time let us not ignore the fate of the child. Looking back over the many years of parenthood there are many things I wish I had done differently
    to help my children prepare for adulthood and parenting in Vermont. All of my Grandchildren suffered many years at the hands of the Vermont state system. Then spent many years themselves attempting damage control and corrective guidance only to have their children forced into the same dysfunctional CHILD WELFARE system.
    Vermontindependant is accurate in her assessment; the victims will be harshly punished and the perpetrators will be paid cash and pushed out the door. The call ” NEXT” will be clearly heard up and down the valley.

  3. I can’t imagine how bad things must be in Nicaragua to come back to the US now of all times. This seems like an excellent time to be settled somewhere far away…

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