Virginia man set for trial in lesbian child custody case
Courts | Philip Zodhiates helped Lisa Miller and her daughter flee the country after a court granted her former partner full custody
by Samantha Gobba
Posted 9/12/16, 03:07 pm
Almost exactly seven years from the day Philip Zodhiates allegedly helped Lisa Miller flee the country with her young daughter Isabella, he is set to stand trial for “international parental kidnapping.”
Miller became a fugitive in 2009 after being embroiled in a custody battle with her former lesbian partner, Janet Jenkens. Zodhiates is charged with driving Miller and Isabella, then 7, to Rainbow Bridge in New York, where the mother and daughter escaped through Canada to an Amish Mennonite group in Nicaragua.
Zodhiates’ trial has been set for Sept. 20 in Buffalo, New York. The prosecutor claims the case “is about religious intolerance of same-sex relationships.” Zodhiates, who has pleaded not guilty, maintains he helped Miller flee before a family court transferred custody of Isabella to Jenkens.
“A defendant cannot conspire to obstruct parental rights that do not exist,” his lawyers said in a court filing.
Miller and Jenkens moved to Vermont and entered a civil union in 2000, the same year the state legalized same-sex unions. In 2002, Miller conceived Isabella by artificial insemination. After the two dissolved their union in 2004, Miller became a Christian and renounced homosexuality. When she tried to cut off Jenkens from her court-ordered visitation with Isabella, a Vermont judge threatened to grant Jenkens full custody.
Fearing she would lose her child, Miller turned to an Amish Mennonite community in her home state of Virginia for help.
Pastor Kenneth Miller (not related to Lisa Miller) offered to help her get to the community in Nicaragua and orchestrated her escape. A Vermont court ordered Isabella to be transferred to Jenkens’ custody on Jan. 1, 2010, but by then, the mother and daughter had fled.
Authorities believe Lisa Miller and Isabella, now 14, are still in Nicaragua, but the Mennonite community there claims it has lost contact with them.
Although Miller’s case was among the first and most widely publicized custody battles between former same-sex partners, it was far from the last. A recent ruling in New York likely will usher in more cases of non-biologically related, non-adoptive adults vying for custody of children. The New York Court of Appeals granted unmarried partners of any sex equal rights to children in the case of a break-up, as long as they were “together” when the child was conceived.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Samantha reports on the pro-life movement for WORLD Digital.