First, there was the debate about parents getting their Covid vaccines. Now that Covid vaccines for children are available, the debate is now about whether children should be vaccinated. For many divorced parents in Chicago, Covid vaccines for children are sparking co-parenting disputes. Should you need to go to court about this issue, the first place to look is to the language written in your parenting order.
What can I do if I do not have a parenting order?
If there is no parenting order in place, then you can discuss the issue with the other parent and if no agreement can be had, you are free to do as you like. You can also have the court rule on the subject by bringing a motion about vaccinating your child. Keep in mind that if you and the other parent are on opposite sides of the vaccination issue, the court is likely to side with the child’s pediatrician. I have seen many parents bring this issue before the court (even before Covid), and unless there is a medical reason for not vaccinating, the judge is likely to side with the parent who seeks the vaccination. This vaccination is no different than other vaccines your child will receive throughout their lives, and the courts lean toward having your child vaccinated.
What if I don’t want my child to get the Covid vaccine?
If you don’t want your child vaccinated, then you need to have some evidence that supports your position. The best evidence is going to be a letter from your child’s pediatrician. You are unlikely to prevail if the child’s pediatrician is recommending the vaccination.
I have shared decision-making with my ex, can I vaccinate my child even if we do not agree?
In the vast majority of divorces, parents have an equal say in medical decisions. If there is no agreement on vaccinating your child and you have your child vaccinated anyway, you have not complied with the court’s order. What can the judge do to you though once the deed is done? Contempt is something within the judge’s power, but you are supposed to be given “the keys to your cell,” which means that the judge’s coercive powers can force you to do something or go to jail. You cannot undo the vaccination, so it is unclear exactly what the judge would do in that case. Judges are sticklers for having their orders followed and it is not advisable to take an action that places you in contempt of court. Judges have been known to make a transfer of custody when parenting orders are not being followed.
Modify your judgment regarding the Covid vaccine instead of risking contempt of court.
If the other parent is refusing to allow the Covid vaccine, ask the court for permission to vaccinate instead. It is always our firm’s recommendation that you do not violate the court’s order and when you have an agreement with the other parent and it becomes a court order, you must comply with the order or risk contempt. Judges will want to know why one parent does not want the child to be vaccinated, such as medical or religious reasons, and parents going into court will need evidence. Absent a good reason, most judges will require the vaccination.
Consider adding language to your agreement that deals with the vaccination issue.
Your parenting order will often times be modified during your child’s minority, but think about the issue of vaccination when drafting the initial parenting plan. What is the viewpoint on vaccinations in general? Some parents have vaccinated their children throughout their lives, but are not comfortable with this vaccine. Using the child’s pediatrician as a guide can be helpful for both of you to reach a decision, but some parents are not trusting the pediatrician with the Covid vaccine issue, which is yet another problem altogether. But if your pediatrician has been with your child for quite some time, hopefully, both parents trust this doctor. One clause in your agreement can deal with this issue and that clause can state that in the event of a disagreement on a medical issue, the parents shall utilize the pediatrician’s recommendation.
What can I do if the other parent vaccinated my child without my consent?
If there is no order in place giving you equal say in medical decisions, then the other parent has not done anything wrong and there is nothing you can do. But if there is an order and you were not consulted (or you were consulted and the Covid vaccination was done anyway) then the other parent has violated a court order. When a person does not abide by a court order, then the court can hold that parent in contempt.
Our office has received many calls about this issue and it seems like grandparents and other relatives are taking children in for Covid vaccinations without the consent of one of the parents. If the grandmother or grandfather takes the child in for the vaccination and neither parent was aware of it or gave their consent, it isn’t likely going to end up with a contempt order against either parent. There might be some type of legal action against that grandparent, but the domestic relations judge cannot hold a non-party in contempt. The judge’s contempt powers include putting the non-complying parent in jail, so it is always advisable to obey the court’s orders.
Is there anything else I can do aside from going into court to change the order?
You can always seek mediation on the issue and perhaps a mediator can reach a middle ground between you and the other parent. Perhaps the parent does not want to vaccinate a 10-year-old but is willing to vaccinate once the child is 12 years old. Mediation is a great tool when there is a parenting decision that needs to be made which is not agreed upon. There will be many issues facing parents about their children and working on decisions together is always the best answer. If mediation does not work, then the court system is the only way to resolve your differences.