The coronavirus pandemic has created numerous tense child-rearing issues between divorced parents. With the Covid-19 vaccine now available to children age 12 and up, there’s new potential for conflict. Polls show that American parents are torn as to whether to give their kids the vaccine, and there’s no doubt that some divorced parents fiercely disagree as to the right approach. When both sides maintain that their stance is the best path to keeping kids healthy and safe, who gets to decide?
Who has legal custody?
When parents divorce, they must come to an agreement about who has physical and legal custody of their children. Physical custody refers to where and with whom the children primarily live. Legal custody refers to parents having authority to make decisions for their children regarding major issues such as religious upbringing, education, and medical matters. Parents often have shared legal custody, which means that both parents have equal decision-making responsibility for their children. However, sometimes a parent may have sole legal custody and exclusive authority to make important decisions for the child, including whether to vaccinate them.
However, even if one parent has sole legal custody and decision-making power, the other may contest the other parent’s authority if they allege that a “substantial change in circumstances” has occurred. For example, if the authorized parent supported vaccines at the time of the custody agreement but has since changed their mind, the parent without legal custody may ask the court for shared legal custody or to modify the order concerning this particular issue.
Try to compromise
When facing this issue, it’s best to reach an agreement without the court’s involvement, which is a costly process and emotionally draining. If the two of you are stalemated, try mediation. An experienced mediator may help you reach a compromise, such as waiting to vaccinate when the child reaches a certain age, agreeing to vaccinate if a school requires it, or acquiescing to the preferences of an older teen.
If mediation doesn’t work or isn’t possible, then look to the court for resolution. A judge will review the circumstances of the case, listen to testimony from both parents, and possibly consider the child’s opinion if they are old enough. The court will also consider whether one parent has sole legal custody of the child, although this may not be the deciding factor. Ultimately, as with all child-related issues, the court will decide based on the child’s best interest.