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Do co-parents need permission from each other to vaccinate their children?

When one parent has sole legal custody, they may not need the other parent's consent before making decisions about the child's medical care, including vaccinations. Joint legal custody, on the other hand, typically means that both parents must agree on major medical decisions — which may include vaccinations. There are some exceptions to these rules, however.

One parent does not typically need to get the other parent's permission for a child's emergency medical care, even under a joint legal custody arrangement. In that situation, however, it may be good practice for a parent to notify the other parent as soon as possible.

When a medical decision involves non-emergency care, however, each parent may have to first consult with the other. A parent who only has visitation may rights may want to get Medical Treatment Authorization for a Minor Form before taking their child to get vaccinated. Usually, vaccines would qualify as non-emergency care. In this instance, one parent could sign a Consent for Medical Treatment of a Minor that describes the parents' agreement, and whether it includes vaccinations.

How do I negotiate an agreement with my ex-spouse regarding medical treatment and vaccinations for our child?

Most states require divorcing parents to make a Parenting Plan when separating. Parents who were never married can go to court to get a custody order establishing their rights, obligations, visitation, summer schedules, and more. If parents can agree to a plan, a court may approve it so long as it is in the child's best interest. If parents cannot reach an agreement, the court may order the parents to visit a mediator, or as a last resort, may impose a plan it believes to be in the best interest of the child.

What happens if I cannot agree with my ex-spouse about our child's COVID-19 vaccination?

Parents have a duty to act in their child's best interests at all times. If one parent believes that the other parent is not meeting that duty, there may be reason for legal action.

Can I take the vaccination disagreement issue to court?

A parent can go to court to resolve many kinds of disagreements with the other parent. But this can get expensive, time-consuming, and emotionally difficult. Additionally, judges have busy dockets, and they often order parents to work things out by themselves or with a mediator. For those reasons, it is a good idea to consider court as a last resort once all other efforts have been exhausted.

Can I obtain sole custody in a court action over COVID-19?

In most states, a parent can file a motion to modify child custody in the court that issued the original custody order. This motion may require evidence that a major change in circumstances has occurred that affects the child or a parent. Some courts might rule on the specific issue of whether a child should receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Other courts might only rule on modifications to the existing legal custody arrangement.

In some states, courts will appoint a guardian ad litem to advocate for the child's interests. This person could be an attorney with experience in family law or child protection law. This individual could also be a social worker or another mental health professional who can assess the child's health needs. Courts may order parents to split this person's fees 50/50. The guardian ad litem will report to the court and participate in hearings. While courts are not required to follow a guardian ad litem's recommendation, they often do.

What factors are considered if the matter goes to court?

A court could look at various factors when deciding how to resolve a dispute between co-parents over vaccines:

  • Whether the parents have agreed on medical and other decisions in the past.
  • Whether the parents have permitted earlier vaccinations.
  • The child's pediatrician's recommendations.
  • Whether the child's school requires vaccination.
  • Whether failure to vaccinate would interfere with the child's other activities.
  • Risk factors faced by the child that would weigh in favor or against vaccination.
  • Risk factors faced by other people in the child's household, such as an immune-suppressed grandparent.
  • The child's wishes.

Parental permission is required in most states for child vaccination. Some state or local laws allow exceptions if requested by the child or their doctor. In these states, a doctor may require a court order approving the vaccination.

At least two cities allow children above a certain age to provide self-consent for the COVID-19 vaccine. In San Francisco, minors who are at least 12 can give self-consent. In Philadelphia, the minimum age is 11.

To learn more about parental rights and obligations with regard to vaccines and other medical issues, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer network attorney for affordable legal advice.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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