COVID Vaccination and Custody

Oct 19, 2021

COVID has created issues for parents that we never imagined we’d have to face. The balance of being safe while not sacrificing too much of our children’s lives is elusive and ephemeral. And, there are as many ways to strike that balance as there are children.

These issues are difficult for intact families to negotiate. Each parent may have very different tolerances for risk and different life experiences that make them prone to preferring different balances. 

For many divorced families finding the balance is complicated by the fact that each parent typically has co-equal decision making and former spouses are less likely to defer to each other in big decisions. 

As one might expect this has led to more legal issues when parents disagree about COVID vaccinations. This article walks through several families’ experiences in the legal system when they disagreed about having their kids vaccinated.

Without a previous court order or parenting agreement in place, parents can be in a legal no man’s land. If one parent wants the kids to be vaccinated and one does not, then a court will typically have to decide.

A judge’s decisions on this issue are likely to be very location-specific and geared toward the culture of their jurisdiction. Areas with low vaccination rates may have judges that feel differently than areas with high vaccination rates. I am not aware of any research on this issue.  

My state, North Carolina, has issued some guidance (see the “New Resource” box on the linked page) on the issues but it doesn’t give clear answers to the vaccination issue. It does seem to say that medical advice plays a role.  

There are no easy answers for these issues. But, spending a lot of money to fight it out in court for a very hard-to-predict result is probably not a great one. It may be better to work with a co-parenting expert to help you both discern your underlying concerns and how to bridge the gap and find a solution. When there are no clear legal answers, lawyers may not be the best tool for the job. 

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