August means school has started in Florida. There is also currently a measles outbreak going on in Florida, and many parents are not vaccinating their children.The recent death of Rotem Amitai, an airline flight attendant who contracted the killer disease on a flight, means the issue of measles, vaccines, and child custody is spreading again.

Getting to the Point

Measles starts like a common cold, with runny nose, cough, red eyes and fever. Often there is a characteristic rash. But measles is not always mild; it can cause pneumonia and encephalitis (a brain infection), both of which can be permanently disabling or even deadly.

From January 1 to August 8, 2019, 1,182 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 30 U.S. states. This is the greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since measles was declared eliminated in 2000.

The most at risk are children who have not yet been fully vaccinated. Two measles cases are in Florida already: one in Broward and the other in Pinellas County.

The reason children are most at risk is simple: Increasing numbers of parents are not vaccinating their children. It wasn’t always this way. Some state’s records show that during the 2004-05 school year, vaccination rates for kindergartners in one county were above 91%. During the 2017-18 school year, the same county had an immunization rate of 76.5%.That puts their children at risk, and the rest of us too.

Florida Child Custody

In Florida, the prevailing standard for determining “custody” is a concept call shared parental responsibility, or sole parental responsibility. Generally, shared parental responsibility is a relationship ordered by a court in which both parents retain their full parental rights and responsibilities.

Under shared parental responsibility, parents are required to confer with each other and jointly make major decisions affecting the welfare of their child. In Florida, shared parental responsibility is the preferred relationship between parents when a marriage or a relationship ends. In fact, courts are instructed to order parents to share parental responsibility of a child unless it would be detrimental to the child.

Issues relating to a child’s physical health and medical treatment, including the decision to vaccinate, are major decisions affecting the welfare of a child. When parents cannot agree, the dispute is resolved in court.

At the trial, the test applied is the best interests of the child. Determining the best interests of a child is no longer entirely subjective. Instead, the decision is based on an evaluation of certain factors affecting the welfare and interests of the child and the circumstances of the child’s family.

Florida Vaccinations and Child Custody

My article on the relationship between vaccinations and child custody in Florida has been cited before. In Florida, a court can carve out an exception to shared parental responsibility, giving one parent “ultimate authority” to make decisions, such as the responsibility for deciding on vaccinations.

There are at least two cases in Florida dealing with the decision to vaccinate and custody, and they conflict! In one case, a Florida court heard the conflicting positions on immunization and decided that it would be in the child’s best interest to allow the anti-vaccination Mother to make the ultimate decision regarding the child’s immunization.

Ten years later, a different Florida court heard conflicting testimony, and decided it was in the child’s best interest to award the pro-vaccination Father ultimate responsibility to make decisions regarding the minor child’s vaccinations.

The decision to vaccinate raises interesting family law issues. It is important to know what your rights and responsibilities are in Florida.

A Dose of Reality

We’ve gotten so used to being disease free. People forget measles was a killer disease which took the lives children. Since the risk of catching measles dropped after it was eliminated twenty years ago, we have begun to think we can’t catch it, or that the vaccines which have protected us are worse than the disease.

Parents’ decisions not to vaccinate their children, because of various reasons, harms society’s immunization against these diseases. It can potentially harm weaker populations.

Although there is no express case law determining custody on the decision to vaccinate, with the school year underway in Florida, the outbreak of measles in two Florida counties now, the decision to get the recommended vaccines may impact your child custody case.

The Ynet news article is here.