Turn on the news or open your favorite social media platforms and you’re sure to see battles for or against mask and vaccine mandates. The vaccination issue quickly shifted from medical to ideological and from policy to personal now that the FDA has approved the vaccines for children 12 and older. For parents who are negotiating issues of child custody, it introduces a new topic for dispute that is likely to become even more important as approvals are expected soon for children under 12 for the vaccine. Here’s what you need to know if you and your co-parent disagree about whether to have your child vaccinated.
In almost all cases, parents in Pennsylvania share what is known as legal custody of their children. Shared legal custody means that each parent shares equally in the decision making for all major medical, educational and religious decisions. The parent who has the majority of physical custody does not get a larger say in legal decisions and this means that both parents need to agree as to whether their child should be vaccinated against COVID-19. Though shared legal custody is granted with the idea that parents can come to consensus on what is in their child’s best interest, that is not always the case.
In a recent headline grabbing case, a Chicago judge ordered a mother temporarily lose custody of her child until she herself got vaccinated. Though that order was later reversed, it gave rise to significant discussion about the topic, with legal experts agreeing that if the child had been immunocompromised, then the mother’s vaccination status would clearly have been a concern.
The intensity of emotions and opinions regarding everything surrounding COVID-19 suggests that there will be many parents who turn to the court in order to modify their legal custody agreement and ask the court to give them authority to decide whether or not their child is vaccinated against COVID-19– or all future medical decisions in general. The courts may assign one or the other parent sole legal custody regarding vaccination, but only after both parents present the reasoning behind their position. Though there are some scenarios where a parent’s religious beliefs or a child’s medical needs override mandates, the courts generally take the position that legal custody issues are to be determined by what is in that specific child’s best interest.
The position the Courts will take when faced with a dispute over a child’s vaccination against COVID-19 is not currently know and will certainly vary with each specific case. There is a strong possibility that the Courts will require parents to seek advice from the child’s medical provider as to the risks and benefits of vaccination and then may Order the parents follow the recommendations of said medical provider. Another factor that may impact how the Court’s decide the issue of vaccination is the position of Pennsylvania’s schools, both public and private. There are currently several vaccinations mandated for attendance at Pennsylvania’s public schools, and there is a strong chance that the COVID-19 vaccine will be added to the list of required vaccinations.