There has been, for years, disputes among divorcing spouses over vaccinations for their children. COVID-19 has brought a whole new battle to light.
Now that COVID-19 vaccines are readily available and approved for children 12 and older, divorcing parents are faced with new decisions that must be made for their children, and this often leads to disagreements among the parents.
There is an increased pressure on parents to vaccinate their children against COVID-19 now that school has started, and restrictions are being tightened at restaurants and entertainment venues alike.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone 12 and older be vaccinated against COVID-19 and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the COVID-19 vaccine for all people without contraindications who are 12 and older. While many parents themselves are vaccinated, they struggle with the decision to vaccinate their children. Because these vaccinations are so new, there are several unknowns that can be frightening for parents.
When parents share responsibility for medical decision-making, one parent cannot unilaterally decide to vaccinate the child, rather, the parents must come to an agreement before such action can be taken. This is tough for parents in the best of circumstances, but during a pending divorce, this can be increasingly difficult.
When such disputes arise between parents pending a dissolution, the court will often appoint a Guardian ad Litem, to represent the best interests of the child. The Guardian ad Litem, or GAL, will look at the facts for that family and child, for example, is the child immunocompromised, attending school in-person, is the child involved in extracurricular activities, among other factors. The Court will look at these factors and the GAL’s recommendation, as well as specific factors affecting the parents, such as their employment, and their health, before deciding if a child should be vaccinated. Either way, the Court has a very hard decision to make.
When parents have joint decision-making, the courts are trending to look at science, best practices, and whatever the authorities such as the American Academy of Pediatrics are recommending. When a parent has sole medical decision-making for a child, that parent can proceed with making the decision to vaccinate a child without the consent of the other parent.
While there is an influx of cases asking for a decision on the COVID-19 vaccine for children, as time goes on this will likely settle down, and the majority of cases will be those with special circumstances that need to be looked into.
The most important thing that parents can do if they are disputing over the COVID-19 vaccine for their child, is to listen to each other, hear the perspective of both parents, and try to determine what is best for their child without relying on the Court to make the decision for their family.
Should you need the advice of a divorce and family law attorney or have questions or concerns about your situation, know that we are here to help and discuss those issues with you.