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Kevin O'Flaherty

This article will discuss what happens when parents disagree on how to handle the Covid-19 vaccine and what steps parents can take to avoid conflict. We will answer the following questions:


  • Are Covid-19 and the vaccine considered "substantial change in circumstances?"
  • Who makes the vaccination decision between divorced and unmarried couples?
  • Can one parent force the other to have their child vaccinated against Covid-19?
  • How can parents avoid conflict ahead of the Covid-19 vaccine?


As the Covid-19 vaccine continues to roll out and vaccinations are cleared for teenagers and children, we expect to see an uptick in questions and conflicts from parents who disagree on how to handle vaccinating their children. Married couples should face fewer legal issues if they disagree, but unmarried parents may have to contend with both issues within the family; such as who has the final decision regarding the child's health and best interests, and from outside the family; such as limitations to the child's activity. Parents disagreeing on childhood vaccinations is nothing new, but Covid-19 has added a level of safety and legality not dealt with before.


Are Covid-19 and the Vaccine Considered "Substantial Change In Circumstances?"


Parents who share children, but have a Custody Judgment that gives one parent control over medical decisions, may wonder if Covid-19 vaccine availability creates a substantial change in circumstances. In a previous article, we covered whether parents' refusal to get the Covid-19 vaccine might affect their parenting time. We again see a similar issue with regards to children getting vaccinated. The parent supporting getting their child vaccinated could certainly petition the court for a modification to the custody order, citing endangerment of the child's health and failure to consider the child's best interests. Parents can ask to modify the agreement just to address the issue of vaccinations. If you and the other parent have disagreed in the past about vaccines, we highly suggest you address this issue sooner than later.


Can One Parent Force the Other To Have Their Child Vaccinated Against Covid-19?


Because the Covid-19 vaccine won't be available for children until the summer or later, there is still plenty of time for parents to discuss their differences before legal action is necessary. However, if you are in the middle of a divorce, or you and the other parent are not on speaking terms, it may be prudent to have an agreement put in writing now to avoid future conflict. 


If the court finds there is a legitimate threat to the child's best interest, it may very well rule in favor of a modification requiring the child to be vaccinated, lest the custodial parent lose allocation of parental responsibilities. Furthermore, the parent can argue that the justification for vaccination does not end with the child's health. If the child isn't vaccinated and doesn't have a medical waiver, the state or county may deny the child's attendance at school; further proof that not getting vaccinated goes against the child's best interests. Ultimately, the judge will have to take all factors into account when making the decision.


How Can Parents Avoid Conflict Ahead of the Covid-19 Vaccine?


If you and the other parent are on speaking terms, start by meeting in a neutral place without your children and really listen to the other person's concerns. If you're not on speaking terms, put your opinion in writing and send it to the other parent. Include any relevant research or evidence to support your claim. While the letter isn't official, it can still help you prepare if the issue escalates to legal action. If you and the other parent come to an agreement that is different than your current parental agreement, put everything down in writing and file a motion with the court asking for a modification. Once the court orders the modification, you can put the issue in the past and know that it won't spark a conflict between you and the other parent once the vaccine arrives.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.

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