Now that the COVID vaccines are starting to get full approval for adults, and now that there is conditional approval for most teenagers, problems are starting to arise between divorced parents as to what happens when parents disagree about whether a child should get the COVID vaccine. Unfortunately, because this is such a new world we live in, there are few established legal answers to these questions.
Most custody agreements require parents to agree on any medical procedure or treatment that a child will receive. In most cases, where there is an immediate and pressing medical need, parents generally agree—if a child needs surgery to heal a broken bone, both parents will usually give consent.
Vaccines may or may not present a pressing medical need. Certainly, there are arguments on both sides, and thus, you can have situations in which parents disagree. When that happens, there are some options.
Compromise? Maybe Not
It’s admittedly hard to compromise on this issue: You either vaccinate a child or you don’t; there is no “middle ground.” However, parents may consider agreeing that children will be vaccinated after full approval from the FDA, or after a certain time period after full approval.
Perhaps a parent is willing to “give and take,” to resolve the issue. For example, a parent who did not want their child to play on the football team, may be willing to agree, in return for allowing the child to get vaccinated.
If no agreement can be reached, the matter will be left in the hands of the court.
What Courts Will and Will Not Do
Remember, a court will only decide whether a parent has the right to get a child vaccinated or not—a court will never mandate that a child get vaccinated, unless the child is considered high risk, such as a child with an underlying condition or compromised immune system. In those cases, where the life of the child may be at risk if he or she gets COVID, it is more likely that a court will side with a parent that wants the child vaccinated.
Parties who want their child vaccinated over the objection of the other parent can also show that the child is engaged in some kind of high risk activity—say, the child is in sports, or band, or somewhere that makes transmissibility more likely.
Conversely, parents who do not want the child vaccinated may find the judge sympathetic to their side, not because the judge does not believe in vaccines, but because the judge believes vaccination (or the refusal thereof) is the right of a parent.
However, parents opposing vaccination should come to court with legitimate reasons, backed up by evidence—perhaps the child’s own pediatrician—to support their refusal.
Contact our New Jersey Real Estate attorneys at The Law Office of Agnes Rybar LLC for help today if you have a dispute about child custody, or need to modify any part of your divorce agreement.