Tens of millions of Americans have been overjoyed to see protection against COVID-19 finally available. But the COVID vaccine has caused some polarity, not only in the culture at large, but in family units. The American Academy of Pediatrics has come out and recommended the COVID-19 vaccine to children five years and over; but not all parents feel comfortable vaccinating their children without more long-term research. What does this mean if there is a conflict between co-parents about whether or not to vaccinate their child?
The courts will likely have some appreciation of the fact that the vaccine is so new. But as time goes on, the courts might revert to their usual stance on vaccines, which is that the vaccine-hesitant parent will not be granted final decision-making power over medical issues. They will usually look to the parent who is most educated on the issue.
What if there is an escalation to the point where the child not getting vaccinated is a part of a pattern of neglect or improper medical decision-making? What does modification look like?
That kind of modification requires proving a material change in circumstances. Neglect of a child’s medical needs would certainly qualify. A concerned parent would want to gather up medical records that show the other parent’s lack of attention to the child, and potentially a list of times that both parents took the child to a doctor or dentist. This evidence will be important for preventing the discussion turning into a he-said/she-said. A child custody attorney might also be able to determine if there is psychological neglect at play. For example: if a parent ignores an obvious need for a child to go to therapy, that could be evidence used against them.
The decision to forego a COVID-19 vaccine for a child is most likely not enough on its own for someone to lose their medical decision-making rights over their child. However, a person who feels this way should communicate that decision with the co-parent in order to get their reasoning on the record. The same applies to the parent who wishes their child to be vaccinated.
Each case is examined on its own merits, so it is important to consult an attorney and learn if you have any risk of losing certain custodial rights.