COVID Vaccines and Camp, a Conundrum for Divorced Parents04/22/2022
While the COVID-19 pandemic may no longer be front-page news, the decision of whether to vaccinate children has become a hotly contested topic in divorce custody battles. When parents are unaligned on whether to vaccinate their child and share joint custody, the disagreement can impact other jointly made decisions such as education, extra-curricular activities and camp enrollment.
The decision to vaccinate a child has become urgent as many sleep away camps are mandating that campers be vaccinated. A parent’s refusal to vaccinate their child may have the devastating effect of preventing a “10 for 2” child from attending camp and seeing friends they have spent the last 10 months thinking about. (“10 for 2” is a reference to a child that spends 10 months of the year counting down for their two months at camp).
Courts are now beginning to hear and decide cases involving joint custodial parents who disagree on whether to vaccinate their children. The paramount consideration in these cases is the best interests of the child. Courts must advance the best interest of the child, even if the result limits a parent’s rights. In two recent cases, both a New Jersey family law court and a New York family law court concluded it was in the best interest of a child to be vaccinated
In the New Jersey case, M.A. v. A.A., 2021 WL 2711112 (App. Div. 2021), the court determined it was in the best interest of a minor child to be vaccinated because the benefits of immunization outweighed the potential risks. In this matter divorced parents shared custody of their minor daughter. The father believed their daughter should be vaccinated and the mother objected to the daughter receiving any vaccinations. (The case did not specifically involve the COVID vaccine.) The father filed a motion to be appointed as the sole decision maker for purposes of immunization in order for his daughter to receive vaccinations. The court granted the father’s motion finding it was the best interest of the child to be vaccinated. The court further noted that the mother’s objections based on religious grounds were not “sincerely held.”
In the New York case J.F. v. D.F., 160 N.Y.S.3d 551 (Sup. Ct. Monroe County 2021), the court also concluded it was in the best interests of the child to be vaccinated. In reaching this conclusion the court noted that the child was eligible to obtain the vaccine and expressed an interest in receiving the same vaccine as her older siblings and mother. The court also detailed that while father objected to the vaccine due to concerns about potential side effects and the newness of the vaccine trials, the father himself was fully vaccinated and child's pediatrician recommended that child be vaccinated.
Do you have joint custody and your former spouse will not consent to your child being vaccinated? This obstacle could prevent your child, who “lives 10 months for 2” from attending his or her summer away from home. Is this in your child’s best interests? Our team can explore the potential issues, law and remedies available to you and ensure that your rights and the rights of your child are protected.