The advent of vaccines has been hailed by some as one of the most important achievements in public health, but some people have always opposed them. Dating back to the smallpox vaccine in the U.S. in the late 1800s, controversy has accompanied inoculations. The ongoing rollout of the COVID vaccine is the latest example.
Parents personal thoughts about vaccinations in general – or the COVID vaccine specifically – can lead to disputes about whether their children 12 years and older (the current age the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for) should be vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends that everyone age 12 and older receive the vaccine against COVID-19. To date, only about 43% of U.S. children ages 12 to 17 have received their first dose of the vaccine.
Co-parenting is often challenging, and negotiating with an ex-spouse about whether to vaccinate your child can be arduous. If there is disagreement, you will want to understand your rights and the steps you can take to resolve this issue.
Medical Decisions for Your Child
If you and your former spouse share legal custody of the children, you both have the right and responsibility to make decisions about your child’s medical care. In some cases, one parent has been given the primary responsibility to make medical decisions for the children. They usually have the final word, but the other parent can take legal action if they feel the decision places the child’s health and well-being at risk.
Unless the COVID-19 vaccine becomes mandatory, neither parent should unilaterally decide to vaccinate the child unless their custody agreement specifically gives them the authority to do so.
Avoiding Family Court
Making medical and healthcare decisions for a child can be particularly emotional. It’s important to stay calm while you discuss the issue with your ex. Staying factual, focusing on co-parenting responsibilities, and not rehashing old wounds can help you have a productive conversation. Approach the exchange more like a business negotiation. Declarative statements like “you always” and “you never” are not conducive to a constructive dialogue. Do not dismiss your ex’s point of view out of hand.
If you still can’t come to a resolution and you remain in two separate vaccine camps, consider a neutral place where you can ask questions and hear about the benefits and risks from a professional. Your child’s pediatrician can help. Once parents understand the vaccine better, it is possible they may come to an agreement on whether to vaccinate their children. A certified mediator can also help parents resolve the vaccination debate.
While public school districts currently aren’t mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for students, it is possible that certain activities – clubs, sports, schools, etc. – could require a vaccine for participation. The child’s overall health and happiness should be part of deciding whether to vaccinate.
How Courts Address Vaccinations Issues
If you and your ex cannot reach an agreement, you may need to ask a judge to decide on the issue. Judges consider a variety of factors, including testimony from medical experts, the parents’ religious beliefs, and how involved the parents have been previously in health decisions.
Illinois law allows for religious exemptions to vaccine requirements but not philosophic exemptions. In many cases, these laws will be considered in situations where parents disagree about whether to vaccinate their children. The only states that do not allow philosophical or religious exemptions are California, Connecticut, Maine, Mississippi, New York, and West Virginia.
Legal Advice Can Make a Difference
Co-parenting is often difficult and requires compromise and a commitment to the best interests of the child. When you and your ex cannot come to an agreement, our dedicated attorneys at the Law Offices of Jonathan Merel, P.C. are here for you.
Schedule a phone consultation by calling (312) 487-2795 or reach us through our online form.