As companies race to manufacture a COVID-19 vaccine, some people have expressed their hesitation to get vaccinated once it is ready for a variety of reasons. Such reasons include concerns regarding its potential side effects, effectiveness, and the fast pace in which the vaccination is being developed. With indications that a COVID-19 vaccine may be ready in the near future, parents will soon likely be faced with the question of whether or not to vaccinate their child, which begs the question: What happens if you and your former spouse are unable to see eye to eye concerning your child’s COVID-19 vaccination?
What the COVID-19 Vaccine Could Mean for Disagreeing Co-Parents
First, you should take some time to review the terms of your final divorce decree or custodial order to determine what it says regarding legal custody of the child.
- Sole Legal Custody: If one parent was granted sole legal custody in your divorce, then he or she has the exclusive ability to make the decision about whether the child will receive the COVID-19 vaccination and can do so despite the objection of the other parent.
- Joint Legal Custody: If you and your former spouse share joint legal custody, the two of you will need to discuss the issue of whether the child should be given the COVID-19 vaccination. In the event that 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 his or her decision regarding the vaccine would ultimately control. If you are not the parent with final decision-making authority over medical decisions for the child and you strongly disagree with the other parent’s position regarding the COVID-19 vaccine, then you should consider requesting a mediation to try to work out a solution amongst yourselves and your lawyers. Alternatively, you may ask the court to resolve this particular dispute or even petition the court to modify legal custody entirely.
If your COVID-19 vaccination dispute does come before a court, there are a few things that you should keep in mind when preparing your case:
- Evidence Supporting / Against Vaccinations: At court, both parents will have the opportunity to present evidence supporting their position regarding the COVID-19 vaccination. In general, the personal opinions of each parent will likely not carry much weight with the court. Rather, one should consider presenting testimony from the child’s medical providers (such as the child’s pediatrician) regarding the child’s medical history and testimony from medical experts supporting or advising against the COVID-19 vaccination.
- Parental Involvement: When making its decision, the court may also consider which parent has historically been most involved in the child’s medical care. For example, if the child’s mother, who is opposed to giving the child the COVID-19 vaccine, has been much more involved than the father in the child’s healthcare, the court may be more inclined to side in the mother’s favor.
- Religious Belief: If one parent objects to vaccinations for religious reasons, the court may give weight to this religious belief when making its determination. However, the court may be wary that religion is just a convenient source of support for the parent’s desire to not vaccinate the child. Accordingly, said parent will need to provide substantial support for the genuineness of his or her religious belief.
Ultimately, the court will balance all of these above-mentioned factors, among others, to determine what is in the best interest of the child. For example, all other things being equal, if protecting the child from COVID-19 and keeping other members of the community safe is in the child’s best interest, a judge would likely rule in favor of the parent who is pro-vaccination.
Alexis Garcia is an attorney at Atlanta divorce and family law firm Boyd Collar Nolen Tuggle & Roddenbery. She handles all types of family law matters, with a focus on complex divorce litigation, child custody and support disputes, and paternity and legitimation. www.bcntrlaw.com