February 1, 2022
The coronavirus pandemic created many new legal issues that family courts rarely had to address before. For any parent, one of the most pressing issues today is whether a child should get the COVID-19 vaccine. The FDA approved vaccines for children over the age of five. When parents cannot agree on whether a child should receive the vaccine, they might have to let a court determine the issue.
Who gets to decide whether a child gets the vaccine?
The COVID-19 vaccine is a medical issue. As with other medical decisions, the parent (or parents) with legal custody/decision-making authority of the child can make this choice. Florida law refers to custody as timesharing and decision-making authority as parental responsibility. (Parents should not confuse legal timesharing with physical timesharing, which Florida law refers to as parenting time. That issue refers to which parent has the right to spend time with the child and on what schedule.)
Sole Parental Responsibility
If either parent has sole parental responsibility for the child, they have the right to make all medical decisions. They don’t need to consult the other parent or even notify them of that decision.
Shared Parental Responsibility
If the parents share joint decision-making authority, the law requires them to work together to agree on medical decisions for their child. Neither parent’s opinion carries more weight than the other. The courts expect the parents to work together to resolve their differences. If they cannot do so, the parents can go to court to settle the issue.
One Parent Has the Final Say
In highly contentious timesharing cases, the court might order joint parental responsibilities but award one parent the final say in legal decisions. This does not allow that parent to unilaterally decide for the child. The law requires the parents to work together respectfully and try to agree. If they cannot, the parent who has the final say will decide, but only after the parents consult together and make honest efforts to resolve their differences.
What are my options if the other parent disagrees with me about the vaccine?
If you have sole parental responsibility, you may decide on your own. If you have shared parental responsibility, you must work with the other parent. Courts can revoke shared parental responsibility, you may decide on your own. If you have shared when parents repeatedly cannot work together for the sake of their children. Parents can work together in many ways to resolve a disagreement over the vaccine.
For example, they might agree to follow the recommendation of a doctor they both trust. They can also find an arbitrator to help them work through the issue. You must show the court that you made honest efforts to work with the other parent in good faith. If these efforts fail, you can take the issue to court.
If either parent has the final say in shared parental responsibility, they can decide whether to vaccinate the child, but they cannot do so without consulting the other parent. Courts are very careful when it comes to the final say. If either parent uses it to make decisions without consulting the other, they can lose the final say abilities or the court might even give it to the other parent. The court expects parents to only use this authority as a tiebreaker after good faith negotiations.
If one parent abuses this right, the other parent can ask the court to resolve the dispute. They can also ask for the court to award them the “final say” over future medical decisions. Here, too, show the judge that you considered other options before coming to court to resolve your differences. The right lawyer will have experience in arbitration, mediation, and other forms of alternative dispute resolution that help parents work together in the best interests of their children.
Does the court automatically side with vaccinating a child?
Not necessarily. Family courts have a legal obligation to consider all available evidence, then make decisions that are in a child’s “best interests.” Medical conditions, religious beliefs, and other extenuating circumstances can affect this decision.
What if my child has a specific health condition?
The CDC identified a single contraindication for the COVID vaccine, which is allergic reactions. If your child has a history of allergic reactions to any other vaccine or components of the vaccine, your doctor might recommend that your child not receive it. This is especially important in the case of anaphylaxis—the most serious allergic reaction a person can have. It causes the airways to swell until the patient cannot breathe.
Anaphylaxis can cause shock, and this is the category of deadly allergic reactions. It has been rare for children to experience anaphylaxis with the COVID vaccine. However, if your child has a relevant medical history or your doctor identified some other risk, the court must know this information before making any custody decisions.
Other medical conditions can also complicate the timing of your child’s COVID vaccine. For example, the National Cancer Institute recommends that cancer patients get the vaccine, but many cancer treatments suppress the immune system. Your child’s doctors might recommend that you wait until after chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant, or stem cell therapies to get your child vaccinated. This allows the immune system to recover sufficiently to respond to the COVID vaccine safely. Here, too, follow the advice of your child’s doctors. The court must receive all relevant medical evidence before ruling about your child getting the vaccine.
Seek Help from Experienced, Aggressive Florida Child Timesharing Lawyers For All Issues Related to COVID-19
Issues relating to vaccines and children can be contentious, and you want help from an experienced family lawyer who handles cases involving all types of medical decisions. We have the experience and knowledge necessary to address new legal issues created by the coronavirus pandemic, and we help parents sort out complex disputes.