Tag: COVID and custody

The Covid-19 Vaccine and Child Custody

The Covid-19 vaccine is here, but big child custody questions are presenting themselves when parents disagree about vaccinating their children. As countries around the world start administering the vaccinations against COVID-19 on a massive scale, many parents are wondering what happens if one of the parents objects to vaccinating their child.

covid vaccine child custody

Point of Contention

In a recent English case, the parents objected to their child receiving various vaccinations which are routinely administered to babies. The father was driven by the fundamental belief that neither the court nor the State has any jurisdiction to take decisions in relation to his children.

The judge found:

It is self-evident that for a healthy, young infant, the risks contingent upon not vaccinating him significantly outweigh the benefits. The conditions identified include potential for catastrophic consequences which, as illustrated, involve paralysis, seizure, learning disabilities, visual loss and cancer.

The Court then ruled that the vaccinations should not be characterized as “medical treatment” but as “a facet of public preventative healthcare intending to protect both individual children and society more generally.”

Florida COVID-19 Vaccinations and Child Custody

I wrote an article on the relationship between vaccinations and child custody in Florida before.  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.

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.

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

Parting Shots

In re B, was another case in Britain which involved another English vaccination case, only this time it was a private matter between parents, as opposed to the state requiring a vaccination.

The case concerned a 5-year-old girl, B, whose parents were separated and unable to agree as to her immunization. Before the parents separated, B had received all the recommended vaccinations. Under the recommendations of Public Health England, she was now due (or overdue) 3 further vaccinations.

The father, though lacking relevant medical expertise, had carried out extensive research and exhibited over 300 pages of material in support of his position. The judge extrapolated the father’s 7 key points and Dr Elliman addressed the medical issues. The court dismissed the father’s proposition that where parents disagree on a child being vaccinated, then the status quo should be preserved as wrong in law.

Dr Elliman acknowledged that no vaccination is 100% risk free, but that vaccination has greatly reduced the burden of infectious disease.

The judge noted the paramountcy principle and the principle that delay in determining the matter may be prejudicial to B’s welfare. In respect to the no order principle, the judge recorded that the court should decide the matter as the parents’ views were polarized. With regard to Article 8 of the European Convention, His Honor Judge Bellamy stated that any order made by the court must be proportionate and in B’s best welfare interests.

Having considered the case law, the judge then determined that Dr Elliman’s opinions were ‘mainstream’ whilst the father’s views were biased and unreliable. In conclusion, the judge granted the specific issue order and made a declaration that it was in B’s best welfare interests to receive the vaccinations.

The article on the British cases by Sarah Williams is here.

 

Canada, COVID, Custody, and Class

The COVID pandemic resulted in a recent child custody case from Canada, which decided between in-person class or remote, online education. The family judge in Ontario found the father in contempt for registering their daughter for in-person class, but then the order took a surprising turn.

Covid Education

Learning the Hard Way

In the Canadian custody case over COVID and classroom learning, the parties lived together from 2009 to 2014, and had a nine-year-old daughter. After their separation, the child timeshared between parents on a week on/week off basis. The parents shared joint custody and equal parenting time.

Importantly, their custody decree also stated that both parties had to agree to a decision concerning the child’s education, and if they disagreed, they would go through mediation before initiating litigation.

Last March, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted in-person education at schools. From July to August, the parties exchanged emails discussing what they should do about the child’s education when the elementary school reopened in September.

The father wanted the child to attend school in person and to take the school bus, while the mother objected. Despite the mother’s opposition, the father registered the child for in-person education and arranged for the child to be transported by bus during his weeks.

The mother asked the court to order their child attend school remotely from home through online learning and that the father be found liable for contempt of court due to his act of unilaterally registering the child for in-person education in violation of the order. The father in turn asked the court to order that the child attend school in person and use the school bus for transportation.

Florida COVID Custody and Class

I’ve written about the custody and education before. In Florida, shared parental responsibility is the preferred relationship between parents. 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 education 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 based on an evaluation of statutory factors, and one equitable catch-all factor, affecting the welfare and interests of the child and the circumstances of the child’s family.

The statute authorizes one parent to have ultimate responsibility for certain decisions. For example, education is an area of ultimate responsibility a court can award. When a decision on education goes to trial, the court grants one parent ultimate responsibility to make that decision.

Oh Canada!

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that it was in the child’s best interests to attend the elementary school’s French Immersion Program in person and to be permitted to take the bus for transportation between her father’s house and the school.

“In my view, if schools are open, children should attend unless there is an unacceptable risk to either the child or a member of their household that is created by the fact the child attends the school and may contract the virus,” wrote Justice Mark Shelston for the Superior Court.

Justice Shelston considered a number of factors presented by the parties in determining the child’s best interests. For instance, a doctor’s report indicated that the child was at risk for psychosocial and school difficulties. The doctor recommended that the child have an individual educational plan that would support her needs.

Justice Shelston noted that this plan required the child’s in-person attendance so that she could work closely with the teachers. The child would also benefit from the French social and linguistic milieu provided by in-person attendance.

Though the mother alleged that members of the immediate and extended family, including the child’s grandparents, suffered from underlying chronic medical conditions – which placed them at a heightened risk for severe illness from COVID-19 – Shelston said that there was no medical evidence to support this allegation. Neither was there evidence that the grandparents lived with the child.

As regards the child riding the school bus, Shelston stated that there was no basis to conclude that the child would be at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 when taking the bus.

Though the father was successful with regard to the school issue, the court ordered him to pay the mother’s costs associated with the motion for contempt. The father was held liable for contempt of court because he had registered the child for in-person education and had made school bus arrangements without the mother’s approval, in breach of the 2017 court order to which both parties had consented.

The Law Times News article is here.

COVID Custody and Vaccinations

COVID and child custody are back in the news as news of the availability of vaccinations hitting the market becomes a reality. COVID first made family law news in Miami early in the pandemic, when an E.R. doctor was stripped of custody of her 4-year old daughter. What impact will COVID vaccines have on custody?

covid custody vaccine

Getting to the Point

In a recent Broward case, Melanie Joseph wanted to see her son, but a judge wouldn’t let her — for no reason except that she won’t wear a mask. Joseph’s 14-year-old son has asthma, a condition that could put him at risk of contracting COVID-19 during this pandemic, court filings show.

Broward Circuit Judge Dale Cohen called the mother an “anti-mask person” who had the “audacity” to brag about it on Facebook. Many take issue with the decision, but it illustrated how judges in family court consider the health risks of COVID-19.

Other cases followed across the country, most involving at least one parent working on the front lines of the crisis. Judges have been patient in considering both sides of coronavirus cases, but that doesn’t mean they’re not willing to step in when they think the child’s health might be at risk.

Florida Vaccinations and 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.

I wrote an article on the relationship between vaccinations and child custody in Florida 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.

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

Melanie Joseph, who moved to North Carolina from Coral Springs at the outset of the pandemic response, drew Broward Circuit Judge Cohen’s ire by posting a picture of herself on social media that went viral: it showed her not wearing a mask while in the waiting room of her oral surgeon’s office in June.

Joseph’s selfie ran with the caption “no mask for this girl” on social media, drawing the ire of the Broward judge handling her custody case. She defended her selfie by saying she was alone in a doctor’s waiting room in North Carolina, where there was no mask requirement at the time.

“She’s one of those anti-mask people and she’s got the audacity to post that on social media,” the judge said. “She’s going to wear a mask. If she doesn’t, time-sharing is not going to happen.”

Cohen’s pointed criticism came in an online hearing Sept. 8 and prompted Joseph’s attorney to ask him to remove himself from the case, which has dragged on for 13 years (the child at the heart of it is 14). Cohen declined.

The judge said in-person visits would have to be supervised because he doesn’t trust Joseph, 43, to wear a mask. And he would not consider a long-distance parenting plan — which outlines each parent’s rights when they don’t live in the same state — between Joseph and her son until the COVID crisis has passed.

“When this pandemic is over and there’s no cases and there’s a vaccine … the mother is going to need to get a vaccine as well. When I have proof that everybody’s safe and the child’s not at risk or danger, then we can talk about a long-distance parenting plan.”

Ultimately, the issue of masks never made it into Cohen’s written ruling, issued late last week, and he softened the vaccine mandate. The order states:

“After a safe and reliable vaccination against COVID-19 is available, the mother may be vaccinated and the child may be vaccinated, thus eliminating that particular danger.”

Joseph acknowledged in an interview that she posted a selfie taken at her oral surgeon’s office in June. “No mask for this girl,” she wrote in the caption. At the time, Joseph said, there was no mask mandate in North Carolina and she was alone in her doctor’s waiting room.

She accused the judge of letting his personal political views cloud his judgment in the case. “My case has been in the court system for a number of years and I have experience with court proceedings,” she said. “What occurred is unconstitutional and should never happen to a parent.”

The child’s father thinks Cohen made the right decision. “My client has a legal obligation to protect his son,” said Donna Goldman, the father’s attorney. “This case has been going on a long time, and the judge weighed more than just COVID. He made the right decision to protect the child’s health.”

The Sun Sentinel article is here.