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Lisa Miller-Jenkins v. Janet 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.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law
    Under the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA), where one state has valid jurisdiction over a child custody matter according to the statutory language, another state lacks jurisdiction to hear the same matter when the case is still pending in the first state.

    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.  That order was on appeal to the Virginia Court of Appeals.  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.  Plaintiff appealed the family court’s decision that Defendant had parental rights.

    Issue
    Under the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA), where one state has valid jurisdiction over a child custody matter according to the statutory language, does another state lack jurisdiction to hear the same matter when the case is still pending in the first state?

    Held
    (Dooley, J.)  Yes.  Under the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA), where one state has valid jurisdiction over a child custody matter according to the statutory language, another state lacks jurisdiction to hear the same matter when the case is still pending in the first state.  The purpose of the PKPA is to maintain jurisdiction in the state that entered the original decree and to discourage parental abduction for the purpose of obtaining a more favorable ruling in a different state.  The PKPA applies to determinations of custody and visitation.  Plaintiff filed her first case in Vermont prior to filing her second case in Virginia.  Under the PKPA, this court must determine if Vermont had jurisdiction according to the PKPA.  If it did, then Virginia had no jurisdiction to hear the matter.  Under the PKPA, to have jurisdiction, one way is for Vermont to be the child’s home state within six months before the proceeding began, the child is currently absent from the state, and one party to the action still lives in the state.  In this case, each of those conditions is present.  Lisa (Plaintiff), Janet (Defendant) and IMJ all lived in the state six months prior to the start of the case.  IMJ is absent from the state and Defendant continues to live here.  Under the PKPA, the court must also have jurisdiction under the local Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act.  The language in that Vermont statute is identical to the federal PKPA.  Jurisdiction under that local statute is also proper.  Because Vermont had valid jurisdiction when Plaintiff filed her action in Virginia, the Virginia court did not have jurisdiction to hear the case pursuant to Section 1738(g) of the PKPA.  Plaintiff’s reliance on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is improper.  DOMA states that no state shall be required to give effect to a judicial proceeding in another state regarding the relationships between individuals of the same sex.  However, DOMA does not demand or require one state to give full faith and credit to the decision of a court in a different state.  Vermont has jurisdiction in the first instance, and no language in DOMA forces Vermont to recognize the decision of the Virginia court.  In this case, the civil union was valid and the PKPA holds that Virginia had no jurisdiction over the matter where Vermont had valid jurisdiction over the case.  Affirmed and remanded.

    Discussion
    As will be seen in the related appellate case from Virginia, Janet Miller-Jenkins v. Lisa Miller-Jenkins, Va. App., 637 S.E.2d 330 (2006), the Virginia Court of Appeals agrees with the Vermont Supreme Court and finds the Virginia family court did not have jurisdiction to hear the case pursuant to the federal PKPA.


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