The FDA has approved the COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 12 and up, but some divorced parents still fiercely disagree on when and whether their kids should take it. How to resolve the issue when one parent wants the kids to have the vaccine immediately, and the other wants to wait–or doesn't want them to take it at all?
Joint Legal Custody
These days, most parents have joint legal custody of their children. When parents share legal custody, the court has given them equal authority for making major medical decisions for the children, including whether to vaccinate them.
If there's a disagreement over the issue, the parent wanting to vaccinate the kids does not have legal authorization to make the unilateral decision to vaccinate and could get in serious trouble for violating a court order if they have it done without their co-parent's permission.
How to Reach an Agreement
Parents should try to work together to reach a satisfactory agreement before turning to the court. Overall, you have three basic options:
- Speak to the child's pediatrician. It may help to speak to a pediatrician or another medical professional that you both trust to obtain expert advice. Hearing a professional explain the benefits and risks of the vaccine might allow you to reach an accord.
- Seek the advice of a mediator. A skilled mediator might help you find an acceptable compromise, such as agreeing to vaccinate at a certain age or allowing an older child to decide for themselves.
- Turn to the courts. A judge will weigh the facts of the case and hear the testimony of both parents and the child if they're considered mature enough. The court will then make a decision based on the child's best interest.
Sole Legal Custody
If one parent has sole legal custody, the circumstances are a bit different. A parent with sole legal custody has unilateral power to authorize vaccination or refuse to vaccinate the child. This legal authority does not mean the other parent is powerless, however.
The parent without legal custody may request to modify the child custody agreement based on a “substantial change in circumstances.”
In North Carolina, the change in circumstances can be any change that affects the child. The non-custodial parent could argue that the global coronavirus pandemic and the custodial parent's approach to vaccines constitutes a change of circumstance that would warrant a modification to the order. Again, the court would listen to both perspectives and decide in the child's best interest.
If you and your ex disagree about having your child vaccinated for COVID-19 in North Carolina and don't currently have an attorney, please give me a call at 919-719-2785 or contact me online. I'm an experienced family law attorney, and I'm happy to help you find a solution.