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.
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.
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.