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Will COVID-19 vaccines create custody disputes?

On Behalf of | Sep 17, 2021 | Child Custody

Questions surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine have caused a wave of stress to sweep the nation. While there is considerable evidence of the effectiveness of vaccines, many people are still hesitant about getting vaccinated.

Vaccine hesitancy is nothing new, but the global pandemic placed it under the spotlight. The spotlight on the reluctance to get vaccinated has already led to questions about the safety of schools, businesses, and even families.

How could vaccines be an issue for families?

The biggest question families could face is this: what if divorced or unmarried parents do not agree on vaccines? Many people see vaccination as a personal choice, but what about when it comes to their child’s vaccination?

If separated or divorced parents already face challenges agreeing and collaborating, the decision about vaccination could be complex for them as well. Our own founding attorney, Heather Williams Forshey, stated that, while there are no answers now, this could be a “potential hot-button issue” for families.

Joint legal custody means joint decisions

If North Carolina parents share joint legal custody of their children, that means they must agree on major decisions that affect their child’s life. This includes the child’s medical care.

There is a debate among legal professionals about whether this decision falls under the category of medical decisions. Regardless, the context of this decision alone could lead to disputes between parents.

What can parents do?

The COVID-19 vaccine is not available for those under 12 yet, but it is likely that they will be in the near future.Therefore, vaccination might be a topic for separated or divorcedparents to discuss as soon as possible – even if they agree on the decision to vaccinate their child.

If parents worry they may run into an impasse on discussing this topic they should:

  • Discuss the topic in a civil manner;
  • Carefully consider their child’s best interests after discussing the best option(s) with their child’s doctor;
  • Consider working with a mediator to resolve any disagreements if necessary.

This discussion will likely be a challenge for many parents who have difficulty co-parenting. That is why even though a vaccine is not yet approved for children, parents should consider talking about this topic with each other in advance of vaccine approval for children under 12 years of age.