Vaccinations and Custody: What occurs when divorced, separated or single dad and mom can’t agree? | Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP

Parents will soon be faced with an important health decision for their children. Covid-19 vaccinations were approved for children aged 16 and over. Vaccination trials are currently taking place for children between the ages of 12 and 15 and are expected to be approved in the summer. It is also likely that the Covid-19 vaccine will soon be included in studies for younger children. All of this has led to parental custody disputes over whether or not a child should be vaccinated. How should parents deal with this problem?

In Pennsylvania, most parents share joint custody of their children. In such cases, both parents would have to agree on custody decisions for their children, for example in connection with medical, educational or religious issues. This includes vaccinations and the Covid-19 vaccine. If one parent has sole custody of the children, that parent can make the vaccination decision for the children themselves. Otherwise, the parents will have to find a way to reach consensus. If this is not possible and one parent takes the children receiving the vaccine very seriously, that parent can apply to the court to change custody. The court would then decide whether one parent would have power to make certain decisions regarding the children without the consent of the other parent. In other words, a judge would not necessarily decide that a child should receive the Covid vaccine, but instead could give a parent sole custody of the child’s vaccines or even just the Covid vaccine. Before making a decision, the judge wants to hear testimony from both parties as to why the child should or should not be vaccinated.

It is often helpful for both parents to understand why they disagree on a vaccine and see if there is a way to compromise. For example, a parent may not be happy with a particular vaccine because it’s so new or because a child is young. Perhaps they can agree that while the child will not receive the vaccine right away, they will receive it until a certain age. Additionally, both parents should seek the advice of their pediatrician to understand the pros and cons of the vaccine and what makes the most sense for their children.

Pennsylvania public schools haven’t yet needed the Covid-19 vaccine for children. However, this is likely to change over time. In this case, it is more likely that a court will find the Covid-19 vaccine to be in the best interests of the child. This, of course, assumes that there are no specific health concerns specific to the child or family religious beliefs that would prevent the child from receiving the vaccine.

Vaccinations, like other custody issues, are another potential parenting controversy that requires everyone to consider what is really in a child’s best interests. These decisions, while not always easy, require careful consideration by both parents.

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