Gusty A.E. Sunseri & Associates, P.C. Attorneys at Law

Child custody and the battle between man's law and 'God's law'

Isabella Miller-Jenkins is the subject of an international manhunt. She was conceived via artificial insemination, and was born to a lesbian couple, Ms. Miller and Ms. Jenkins. Ms. Jenkins never formally adopted Isabella even though the couple was joined by a civil union in Vermont, so after the couple split in 2003, Jenkins and Miller became embroiled in a bitter child custody dispute.

After separating from her partner, Ms. Miller took Isabella to her home town and rediscovered her Evangelical Christian roots. Custody was originally granted to Miller, but her refusal to adhere to visitation schedules and her interference with Jenkins' parenting time resulted in a court awarding custody of Isabella to Ms. Jenkins in 2009.

Prior to the court's decision in 2009, Ms. Miller had taken Isabella to Central America and lived in Nicaragua for an unknown period of time. When Ms. Miller failed to bring Isabella to a court-ordered exchange on January 1, 2010, a federal warrant was issued for her arrest.

A man who arranged for Ms. Miller and Isabella's flight from the U.S. has now been charged with aiding and abetting an international kidnapping. He is currently out on bail and said to be staying with a friend in Pennsylvania, who likens his involvement in the case to choosing God's law over man's law.

Ms. Miller is wanted by the FBI and Interpol. Law enforcement is also seeking help from Nicaraguan police, but they claim to have no information about Miller's whereabouts. Nicaragua is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, so even if Isabella were found in Nicaragua, the country would not be required to return her to the U.S.

The man who helped Miller take Isabella out of the country could face up to three years in prison on the abetting charge. More $30,000 has been raised so far for his legal defense fund, according to a website dedicated to that cause. The website claims that Ms. Miller took the child because she had realized the "emptiness" of her lesbian lifestyle and "repented of her immoral ways."

Friends of Ms. Jenkins describe her as a caring mother who is worried sick about her child. Jenkins doesn't understand how a life on the run could be more stable than having two loving parents and two sets of grandparents to care and love for Isabella.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction was created in order to prevent just such tragedies. The treaty is intended to fix child custody hearings in the child's home country so that disputing parents have no incentive to take their children abroad in an effort to find a more sympathetic court. Every year, hundreds of American children are taken abroad illegally.

Source: National Public Radio, "AP Enterprise: A Fight Over A Girl, And God's Law," June 27, 2011

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