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Janet Miller-Jenkins v. Lisa Miller-Jenkins

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Lisa (Plaintiff) and Janet (Defendant) were married in Vermont.  Plaintiff conceived and the couple lived with their minor child for one year in Vermont.  Plaintiff then filed for a dissolution in Vermont and afterwards filed a petition for parental rights in Virginia.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Under the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA), a state must give full faith and credit to child custody and visitation determinations made by another state that validly exercised jurisdiction according to the PKPA.

    Facts.

    Lisa (Plaintiff) and Janet (Defendant) lived in Virginia originally.  They traveled to Vermont in 2000 and entered into a valid civil union according to the laws of Vermont.  Plaintiff received artificial insemination in 2001 and gave birth in April 2002.  The parties moved to Vermont four months later and lived there for a little over one year.  In September 2003, they separated and Plaintiff moved back to Virginia with the minor child, which was given the designation of IMJ by the court.  Plaintiff filed for a dissolution of the civil union in Vermont in November 2003.  In the complaint, Lisa (Plaintiff) listed IMJ as the “biological or adoptive†child of the civil union.  The family court issued a temporary order awarding Plaintiff temporary legal and physical responsibility of IMJ and awarded visitation rights to Janet (Defendant).  Plaintiff did not allow visitation by Defendant and filed a petition in Virginia instead to establish IMJ’s parentage.  The Virginia family court found Defendant had no parental rights on grounds Vermont’s civil unions laws were not valid under Virginia law.  The Vermont family court refused to give full faith and credit to the Virginia family court’s decision regarding Janet’s (Defendant) lack of parental rights.  The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed that decision.  Defendant appealed in Virginia on the grounds the Virginia family court failed to recognize that the PKPA bars jurisdiction in Virginia.

    Issue.

    Under the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA), must a state give full faith and credit to child custody and visitation determinations made by another state that validly exercised jurisdiction according to the PKPA?

    Held.

    (Willis, Jr., J.)  Yes.  Under the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA), a state must give full faith and credit to child custody and visitation determinations made by another state that validly exercised jurisdiction according to the PKPA.  Under the PKPA, Vermont had jurisdiction because the parties lived there within six months of the case being filed in Vermont, IMJ was absent from the state, and Janet (Defendant) remained in the state.  Jurisdiction was therefore proper in Vermont, and the Virginia family court did not have jurisdiction to hear this case while the matter was still pending in Vermont.  Lisa (Plaintiff) argues the Vermont court improperly determined that Janet was a parent.  However, Plaintiff’s own complaint in Vermont stated IMJ was the “biological or adoptive†child of the civil union.  The Vermont court validly determined the custody and visitation rights and this court cannot reconsider them here.  Plaintiff’s argument that DOMA trumps the PKPA is also incorrect.  There is no language that DOMA sought to repeal the PKPA.  Without express intent by Congress to do so, this court will not infer that DOMA repealed portions of the PKPA.  DOMA allows one state to deny the recognition of same sex marriages by another state.  That is not the issue in this case.  The one question before this court is whether, under the PKPA, Virginia can deny full faith and credit to Vermont’s judicial decisions.  This court cannot do so.  Plaintiff’s own choice of Vermont as the initial place to file her petition therefore prevents Virginia from hearing the same claim.  Finally, Virginia’s Marriage Affirmation Act, which parrots the federal DOMA act, is preempted by the PKPA.  Reversed and remanded with instruction to give full faith and credit to the orders of the Vermont court.

    Discussion.

    This decision was significant because the court found that the PKPA was the controlling federal statute and that it was not trumped by DOMA.  As noted by the court, the issue in this case was not recognition of civil unions or same sex marriages, but instead a question of jurisdiction regarding the care and custody of a child.


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