Mississippi Divorce Lawyer Discusses When Custody Disputes Become Kidnapping Charges

When one Mississippi parent violates the child custody agreement, commonly one of four things happens: (1) the other parent forgives and forgets, (2) the two parents talk and come to a mutual understanding, (3) the court scolds and warns the parent or (4) the court holds the parent in contempt. However, some courts have grown weary of flagrant violators, and prosecutors have turned to filing formal criminal charges for kidnapping.

In one famous case, Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins met in 1997 and began a same-sex relationship. The two women longed to start a family together and traveled to Vermont in 2000 to obtain a civil union. Just one year later, the women began discussing pregnancy. Lisa Miller conceived through in vitro fertilization. Unbeknownst to Janet, Lisa questioned her sexuality during her pregnancy and began to believe that homosexuality was an immoral way of life. When their newborn daughter, Isabella, was only seventeen months old, the two women separated. Lisa subsequently moved to Virginia, which did not recognize civil unions at the time, and Janet drove for 10 hours each weekend to see her daughter and pay child support.

However, the child custody agreement between the two women was weak in a state like Virginia, which did not recognize parental rights for same-sex couples. Lisa became embroiled in the Mennonite faith and began working for a church. At this time, she started blocking Janet from visiting Isabella. Janet would make the long drive only to find that Lisa had left with Isabella.

Eventually, Lisa sought full custody of Isabella, arguing that the Defense of Marriage Act stated that Janet was not legally a parent because she had no biological ties to Isabella. Initially, Lisa was granted full custody. However, an appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court gave Janet a visitation schedule.

Despite this higher court-ordered visitation schedule, Lisa was hesitant to allow her daughter to visit with her other mother. She again began to refuse to let Janet see Isabella. The two women repeatedly went to court to the exasperation of the judge. Each time, the judge gave Lisa a second chance and ordered visitation. However, after numerous denials of Lisa’s pleas for sole custody on the basis of religious beliefs, she began to concoct a plan.

When Isabella was only seven years old, she and Lisa boarded a car full of Mennonites headed for upstate New York without the knowledge or consent of the court or Janet. Once in upstate New York, they took a cab to Canada, then flew to Mexico, and finally flew to Nicaragua. When they arrived in Nicaragua, they assumed the names Lydia and Sarah.

For the past five years, Isabella, now twelve, wanders the Nicaragua slums with her mother in a desperate attempt to flee U.S. Marshals. The mother-daughter duo receive help from Mennonite communities in Nicaragua but live largely in squalor.

In fact, according to a New York Times article, several individuals and Lisa herself are now being prosecuted for international parental kidnapping and conspiracy. Philip Zodhiates was the individual who picked up Lisa and Isabella in Virginia and drove them to upstate New York. Zodhiates sells mailing lists to conservatives in Virginia. He faces up to eight years in federal prison.

In addition, Timothy Miller, a Mennonite Nicaraguan missionary, has been formally charged with aiding Lisa by assisting them in Nicaragua. Kenneth Miller was already convicted of aiding and abetting international parental kidnapping in 2012.

Meanwhile, Janet was awarded sole custody in 2010 and awaits the day her daughter returns.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a child custody issue, call the Mississippi Divorce Lawyer Matthew S. Poole today at (601) 573-7429 to schedule a free initial consultation.

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Mississippi Divorce Lawyer Discusses When Custody Disputes Become Kidnapping Charges
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Mississippi Divorce Lawyer discusses kidnapping charges in Mississippi child custody cases.

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