With the recent release of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, many parents are wondering what rights they have regarding their child’s vaccination status.
These rights have been a hot topic as there is little precedent for how these vaccines are prescribed and incorporated into their children’s lives. Recently, I attended a webinar with my partner Barbara King, Tully Rinckey, on how parents, especially those faced with joint custody, are familiar with the decision-making process about child vaccination and its potential impact the child can handle social and educational life.
Control over whether a child is vaccinated depends on custody. With sole custody, one parent would have complete control over whether or not the child would be vaccinated and would be responsible for making the decisions about how the child receives an education. In the far more common case of joint custody, however, decisive decisions must be made by both parties, which can often lead to differences of opinion.
Each parent has the right to be fully informed of any decision that is to be made for the child and to have access to all kinds of records of those decisions.
In making these decisions, I propose three different strategies that mismatched parents can use to better reach an outcome. Parents should try to use these methods when a consensual decision cannot be made. The first strategy is to just try to say things out loud. In situations like this, split parents may not have the best methods of communicating, but expressing your differences is the easiest and fastest way to resolve these disputes.
Remember that the two of you are trying to decide what is best for the child. So put aside your feelings about the other person and focus on the problem. If sitting down to discuss the problem doesn’t work, try having a meditated discussion. Mediators can often act as crucial third parties to facilitate productive discussion between parents. We can make recommendations for some professional mediators, or you can even appoint someone you both trust as a mediator. Regardless of who you have, make sure you stick with it until you get a “yes” from both parties.
If both parties fail to reach an agreement through mediation, the problem escalates into the courtroom. We really want to try to offer everyone strategies to solve these problems without going to court. However, sometimes this is the only way parents can make a decision and be forced to uphold it.
It is projected that we should have a fully marketable COVID vaccine for children under the age of 16 by 2022, but even then we may not yet know all of the possible side effects they could have. When Pfizer and Moderna vaccines first hit the market, it was determined that the companies could have complete legal immunity from any legal action against any side effects that the vaccine could cause.
When you make a vaccine in such a short time, there is always the potential for unknown side effects in the future. This means that it will be difficult to convince the courts one way or another when parents are in court deciding whether or not to give their child the vaccine, as there is so little case law on the subject. Coupled with the fact that the Ministry of Health has not mandated the COVID-19 vaccine for children, the courts would need even more information about the possible side effects before they could reach a verdict.
As we learn more about the vaccines and they keep coming out, issues related to children’s vaccination status will definitely become a bigger future problem in family law. However, cases are still largely determined by first impressions and what is in the best interests of the child.
Michael J. Belsky, Esq. is a partner of Tully Rinckey PLLC. He represents in matters of divorce, alienation from parents, separation agreements, annulments, custody, maintenance, changes in maintenance and custody of children, enforcement of divorce judgments, maintenance of spouses, agreements before and after marriage, protection orders and family crimes. He can be reached at (518) 218-0493 or [email protected]