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When Divorced Parents Disagree about Vaccinating their Children

Millions of Americans have received the vaccine for COVID-19 as our country begins to emerge from the confines of this global pandemic. While some trust that the vaccine is safe and effective against preventing severe illness related to the deadly virus, others are skeptical of trusting a vaccine that was just recently introduced into the market. According to state health officials beginning April 15, 2021, every Californian age 16 and older will become eligible for the vaccine. As they prepare for the possibility of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine this year, many parents in a co-parenting situation have questions about navigating this relationship while still getting their children the medical care they need.

Many kids have already returned to the classroom, prompting parents to discuss as to whether or not to have their children vaccinated once it’s permitted. The person who will decide on whether or not a child or children will get the vaccine will depend on who has sole parental responsibility for healthcare decisions. According to the legal site Nolo, when parents go through a divorce, they must establish a custody agreement, which includes provisions for both the child’s physical and legal custody. Physical custody refers to the parent who has the right to have a child live them and having legal custody of a child means having the right and the ultimate decision-making power on a child’s upbringing. This means that if you have sole parental responsibility for medical decisions, it will be up to you in deciding whether or not to vaccinate your child for COVID-19.

If you and your former spouse share joint legal custody, both of you will need to discuss the issue of whether the child should be given the COVID-19 vaccination by following the dispute resolution provision in your dissolution decree. If there is still a dispute between you and your former spouse after discussing the matter, if one parent was given final decision-making authority over medical decisions for the child, then their decision regarding the vaccine would ultimately control. If you are not the parent with final decision-making over medical decisions and you strongly disagree with the child receiving the vaccine, you may try asking the court to resolve this particular dispute or even petition the court to modify legal custody entirely. If you decide to take this route, you should consider requesting advice from an experienced family law attorney who can help handle the matter.

Parents who share custody but cannot come to an agreement have a few options to consider. Parents could enter into mediation to try to resolve their differences concerning having a child vaccinated for COVID-19. During mediation, parents have the option of discussing not only whether to have their children vaccinated, but they are also able to address important questions regarding the vaccine including where it can be administered, its potential side effects, necessary boosters, and other important information.

According to a recent AP News report, Pfizer stated its COVID-19 vaccine was safe and 100 percent effective in preventing the illness in teenagers ages 12 to 15, and they hope to get regulators to allow emergency use in hopes of vaccinating this age group before they head back to school in the fall. Because all schools may require a COVID-19 vaccination for students starting in the fall 2021 school year, parents have to quickly establish how to approach the issue. Although some divorced parents may be familiar with the potential challenge of making medical decisions together, the issue of having a child vaccinated for COVID-19 presents a new challenge. It’s important to begin the conversation with your former spouse regarding your position on having a child vaccinated for COVID-19 so that you can be prepared to address this directly when it becomes available.

by Debra Schoenberg