My Ex and I Disagree About Giving Our Kids the COVID Vaccine. What are My Options?
Since March of 2020, our lives have been inundated with information and references to the Coronavirus pandemic. You can seldom go online or turn on the television without hearing about COVID-19, current infection rates, and the availability of vaccines. Earlier this year, the COVID vaccine was approved for children ages 12 and older, giving parents with kids in this age group the option of vaccinating. For some divorced parents, the vaccine’s availability has led to disagreements and created conflict over whether to allow their kids to be vaccinated. If you are in this situation, you may be asking: My ex and I disagree about giving our kids the COVID vaccine. What are my options?
In Wisconsin, custody refers to a parent's decision-making authority regarding their child. During divorce, a parent can be granted: 1) joint custody—where they will be required to make decisions about their child with the other parent, or 2) sole custody—where one parent has all decision-making authority.
If you have sole custody, decisions about your child's medical treatment and vaccinations are up to you regardless of the other parent's objections. However, the other parent could file a motion with the court seeking to change the custodial relationship or prevent you from vaccinating or not vaccinating your child. In the meantime, if the parent with sole custody exercises their discretion and gets the child vaccinated before the court issues any orders, the objecting parent may have little recourse. However, in most instances, parents will have joint custody.
Wisconsin law presumes that when both parents are safe and appropriate caregivers, they should have joint custody of their children. During divorce, parents sometimes agree that one parent will be the primary decision-maker regarding specific issues, including medical treatment. This may happen because of practical considerations such as when a parent lives in another state or city than the child or when the child resides with the decision-making parent more of the time. However, when parents share medical decision-making authority, they will have an equal say over interventions such as vaccine administration.
If your final divorce documents grant you primary decision-making authority for your child’s medical treatment and care, you may be in the same position as the sole custodial parent. However, if you and your ex have joint custody, neither parent will have a superior right to the other when making vaccination decisions.
Mediation and Court Options
If you and your ex disagree and are both firmly rooted in your positions, it can be challenging to move forward. Parents who reach this type of impasse often opt to resolve the matter through mediation or by returning to court.
If a parent objects to vaccination, the Mediator and the judge will want to hear their reasons. The parent may be concerned about the long-term effects of the vaccine or believe it's unnecessary or ineffective. Depending on their grounds, they may or may not be able to find a resolution with the other parent in mediation. The court will not be able to decide this issue for the child. However, it can order that one parent be granted sole decision-making authority regarding medical treatment and care.
Factors the Court Can Consider
If the matter comes before a court, the judge may consider numerous factors such as: whether the parents have agreed on medical and other decisions in the past, if the parents have permitted vaccinations before this point, the child's pediatrician's recommendations, how not being vaccinated will impact the child's ability to attend in-person school, if the child has a complicating medical condition that places their health at risk, and what the child wants. The court will also want to know each parent's reasons for or against getting their child vaccinated. These and other inquiries the court may make aim to determine what is in the child's best interest.
If you and your ex can't agree on whether or not to give your child the COVID vaccine, you should consult with an experienced Wisconsin family law attorney to review your options. Attorney and Mediator Karyn Youso of First Look Family Law has extensive experience helping clients understand their custodial options and can help you evaluate your circumstances and consider your next steps. Contact us today and let us take a “first look” at your situation.