Do you and your ex disagree about whether your child should get vaccinated against COVID-19? Divorced and unmarried parents across the country are finding themselves at odds over this crucially important decision.
Today we will discuss the debate and how parents at odds may be able to solve this problem in Florida.
What does the CDC say?
As of this writing, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children from ages 5 to 17 receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to protect them from the coronavirus. Teens 12 and older should also receive a booster.
According to the CDC, myths about COVID-19 vaccinations for children abound. The federal agency states that the vaccine has been intensely evaluated in kids. Side effects have been mild, and the inoculation is “safe and effective,” largely preventing infection and keeping kids from developing serious illness if they are infected.
Rarely, a child may have a serious response like a severe allergic reaction or inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis and pericarditis).
On the other hand, the CDC states that unvaccinated children who contract the virus face risk of long COVID, multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) or death. The agency also says it is a myth that the vaccine can cause fertility or reproductive problems.
What do parents who oppose the vaccine say?
Still, many parents are very concerned about rumors that say the opposite – that the vaccine has not been around long enough to know the extent of potential harm. Some believe that approval was rushed through. And some parents are against all vaccines for personal or religious reasons.
A recent article in Florida Today explains the position parents find themselves in in the Sunshine State. State law limits what schools can do to lower the risk through masking and parents in the community are also divided.
Interestingly, this article interviewed an Orlando pediatric cardiologist who said that myocarditis can happen from the vaccine or from getting COVID-19, but the risk is higher for unvaccinated kids both in terms of contracting the condition and its severity.
Legal custody and parental responsibility
The decision whether to vaccinate lies with the parent who has the legal responsibility to make medical decisions according to the divorce decree or custody order. (Responsibility for major life decisions was historically called legal custody.) Legal custody can also be jointly held, and this is quite commonly the case, meaning that parents with joint decision-making responsibility would need to come to agreement on whether to vaccinate.
If the power is held by one parent, that parent has the legal right and responsibility to decide, but the other parent can ask the court to modify the responsibility by making it joint or switching it to the petitioning parent alone. To make this change, the parent must show that there has been a substantial change in circumstances (the pandemic probably is) and that the modification of parental responsibility would be in the child’s best interest.
It would be important for each parent to submit evidence to the court of the pros and cons of vaccination against COVID-19 for the child. This could be through testimony from a doctor or submission of medical evidence through documents. The child’s pediatrician’s opinion would normally carry great weight.
Seek the advice of an experienced family lawyer immediately if you are in this position – on either side of the debate. An attorney can help you evaluate your potential legal remedies. Could the dispute be resolved through negotiation or is returning to court (either to ask for a change in legal custody or to oppose it) an option?