By Mary Ellen Flynn, Esq., 301.563.6685
COVID-19 presents unique challenges for co-parents to cooperate regarding health protocols for their children. Now that the CDC recommends COVID-19 vaccines for children 12 years and older, another pandemic issue for co-parents arises: What if my co-parent and I disagree on vaccine administration to our children?
Since the pandemic’s onset, many co-parents have included COVID-19 health protocols in their custody agreements, whether temporary or permanent, for example, certain protocols such as maintaining group “bubbles” to diminish contact or having children wear masks around extended family members. These health protocols have been contentious for some co-parents. Sometimes, one co-parent is more cautious than the other and will lash out if they know their co-parent is not following the same precautions during their parenting time. Co-parents should try to resolve all issues amicably and only use court intervention as a last resort. Some divorced co-parents may be surprised that there are tips to implement and options to consider when facing the dilemma of COVID-19 vaccine administration for their children.
Children’s involvement in the discussion
Children should not be involved in the co-parents’ decision of Covid-19 vaccine administration. Receiving a vaccine is a difficult decision that involves maturity and should not be left to the sole discretion of any one particular child. However, if you have a child of high school age, it may be favorable to get their point of view and discuss any fears that the older child may have. Regardless, the decision should ultimately be made by the parents.
Additionally, arguing about this particular issue should not be done in front of your children. Whether separation from your co-parent was amicable or not, no child needs to be involved in adult conversations, especially if there is hostility.
Discuss the issue
Regardless of whether one parent has the authority to make medical decisions for their children, co-parents should make an effort to discuss each other’s viewpoints and consider each other’s position. Some points to consider are:
- How much does each parent know about the COVID-19 vaccine? Discuss what sources you are using to gather your information and why these sources do or do not raise concerns regarding the COVID-19 vaccine for children.
- Does either parent have a pre-existing health condition that puts them at higher risk? If so, this is one factor that may be in favor of having your children vaccinated.
- Do any of your children have a pre-existing health condition that also puts them at higher risk? Again, if this is the case, this may also be another factor in favor of vaccination.
- Will abstaining from vaccination affect your child or children’s ability to attend school in-person or participate in extracurriculars? In many cases, this may be the deciding factor for some parents, especially if their children are socially active.
- What is the advice of your children’s pediatrician? Especially if co-parents are in disagreement, consulting with your child’s pediatrician will give you neutral and medically sound advice.
Refer to the Custody Agreement or seek alternative dispute resolution.
After discussing vaccine administration options with your co-parent, if you two still cannot agree on whether your children will obtain the COVID-19 vaccine, look to your custody agreement. Whichever parent has the right to make medical decisions or whichever parent has tie-breaking authority, that parent’s position is the one that will ultimately prevail. If medical decisions are shared, i.e., the parents have joint legal custody, then review your agreement to see if there is a provision regarding alternative dispute resolution to facilitate discussions aimed at resolving issues of this nature. If your agreement does not contain such a provision, think about what options there are aside from going straight to court. Even if your custody agreement does not provide for it, you could still recommend mediation to your co-parent, or you could seek help from a parenting coordinator who can also help facilitate a resolution.
Modifying the custody agreement
In Maryland, either co-parent can file a Motion to modify custody (physical or legal), but only if there is a “material change in circumstances.” Therefore, if you and your co-parent still cannot agree about your children receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, you may be able to modify legal custody in court. For example, if your child has a chronic health issue, such as diabetes or an autoimmune disease, and your co-parent refuses COVID-19 vaccine administration to the children, you may have a justifiable reason to modify legal custody to protect the safety and health of your child.
About Andalman & Flynn, P.C.: Founded in 1998 in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, Andalman & Flynn has forged a distinguished reputation for legal excellence. The firm represents individuals seeking disability benefits throughout the country and practices family law throughout Maryland and the District of Columbia. The firm focuses on cases that impact the rights of everyone, and are there for clients when responsive legal help is most critical. The firm has provided legal analysis on national and local television and radio, and their attorneys often testify before legislative bodies and are routinely invited to contribute to prominent legal publications. For more information about Andalman & Flynn, please visit the website at andalmanflynn.com or call 301.563.6685