Children of Divorced Parents and Vaccine Decisions – Who Has the Final Say?

Tips on Co parenting and Homeschooling During the COVID 19 Pandemic

As if there are not enough aches and pains and legal woes associated with divorce, there has recently been an uptick in divorced parents taking their disagreements on their children getting the Coronavirus vaccination to court. 

Who has the final say on this vaccination and other childhood vaccinations? It requires understanding which parent has legal custody for medical decisions, and this is different from physical custody. We will explore the complicated issue with cases like this in more detail.

What is Legal Custody?

Legal custody means that one parent has the authority to make major life decisions for a child. Sometimes it can be shared legal custody, which requires the consent of both parents, regardless of who the child lives with. These major life decisions include:

  • Medical decisions, such as whether or not to vaccinate a child
  • Mental health or therapy needs
  • Choice of religious upbringing and participation
  • Education decisions, including the choice of school or childcare
  • Travel
  • Sports, summer camp, or any extracurricular activities
  • Where the children will live

If married parents do not have a custodial agreement in place, one of the parents can take a child to get vaccinated without permission from the other parent. To avoid going to court, parents should communicate and cooperate by making decisions together.

The types of court-appointed custody orders in California are:

  • Joint, which means both parents share the right to make important decisions about a child’s health and welfare
  • Sole, where one parent only has permission to make these important decisions.

What are the Vaccination Requirements in California?

All 50 states in the United States, including Washington, D.C., require some vaccines for children to enter public school, such as:

  • Chickenpox
  • Whooping cough
  • Polio

There are some states that allow religious exemptions to these vaccinations and others that permit medical exemptions. However, 41 states require parents to consent to a Coronavirus vaccine for children under 18. In November 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gave full approval for the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. The vaccine was approved for teens 12 to 15 in May 2021.

California was the first state to announce Covid-19 vaccine requirements for children attending 7th through 12th grades in either public or private schools once there is full FDA approval. Individual school districts in Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Diego already have vaccine mandates in place for some students. 

What to Know About Child Covid Vaccinations

The children’s Covid-19 vaccination dose is about one-third the medication of the adult dose, which is why there is a much lower percentage of children experiencing Coronavirus symptoms, such as:

  • Short-term fatigue
  • Headache
  • Fever and chills

It is important for parents, however, to realize that vaccinations come with potential risks and side effects. The child also has a voice. Families should all discuss how safe the Pfizer vaccine is for the child together with their pediatrician by looking thoroughly through the child’s medical history. 

How does the decision to vaccinate a child or not play out in court? Many courts in California will most likely follow the scientific recommendations made by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), treating this vaccine like any other – especially with the emergence of the delta variant.

What are the Factors Considered in Legal Custody Cases in California?

The child’s best interests are always the first priority in California’s legal custody cases. 

A judge is not required to award joint legal custody, but it is considered in most cases. If the custody case goes to trial, each family law attorney will make their arguments and the judge will consider factors for each parent to decide on the best decision for legal custody, including:

The Parent’s Ability to Support the Child

Supporting a child includes a parent’s ability to support them financially, emotionally, and physically (health and well-being). The judge also looks into the parent’s ability to make sure the child’s needs are met in a safe, clean environment, that the child attends school regularly, and that the child maintains healthy habits and a regular routine.

Any History of Domestic Violence or Abuse

The court will thoroughly investigate any allegations of abuse or domestic violence done by the parent. The examination will rule out any false claims made by a parent. This also applies to legal custody cases that involve accusations of substance or alcohol abuse. 

The Relationship Between Each Parent and Child

The judge will consider the relationship between each parent and the child through witnesses. He or she may even consider a child’s preference for custody when the child is older and more mature, but they will need to sift through any possible parental manipulation when it comes to this.

The Schedules of Each Parent and Child

Again, because awarding legal custody is centered on the child’s well-being, a judge will make sure children are living in a stable environment, with their schedules (school, extracurricular, sports, social) as uninterrupted as possible. Because children sometimes feel the effects of divorce more than their parents, this is a good way to reduce the negative impact. 

If There are any Other Individuals in the Home

The judge will carefully look at the living situation of each home and who is living there to determine the child’s best interest – not the parent’s needs and wants – such as step- or half-siblings that support the child’s mental health or another adult with a history of abuse, which would be detrimental to the child’s mental health.

How Divorced Parents Can Legally Protect Their Stance on Child Vaccinations

To resolve any disputes on essential healthcare decisions, such as whether or not their child should receive a Coronavirus vaccine, divorced parents should seek legal counsel and professional advice from medical experts, such as therapists and pediatricians. 

The parents should also respectfully collaborate and consider the scientific and medical studies when deciding what is best for their child’s health and future. Mediation through divorce coaches is also a viable option to help guide parents through the facts, opinions, and laws surrounding vaccines. 

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