Divorced or separated parents who share joint custody of their minor children often have to compromise in regard to their children’s health and educational issues. Whether to get their child a COVID vaccination continues to be a contentious issue for many parents as not every parent agrees to vaccinate their child. This often leaves no room for compromise, only anger and frustration.
Under Minnesota law, there are two types of custody: physical and legal. This designation is for both sole and joint custody of children under the age of 18. Physical custody is the right to make day-to-day decisions regarding your child, like your child’s activities of daily living, including where to reside. Vaccinations fall under legal custody. Legal custody gives a parent the right to make health, religious, and educational decisions, among others, for all minor children. Sole legal custody allows that parent the right to make vaccination decisions for a child under the age of 18. However, what happens in the case of joint custody? Let’s explore.
Joint Legal Custody
Joint legal custody means that divorced or separated parents share the right to make vaccination decisions for their minor children. One parent may feel that the COVID vaccine is safe for their child. The other may fear potential harm. Both may feel their positions are unshakeable. How do you bridge this stalemate?
Speak with a Medical Professional
If you both trust your child’s pediatrician or other medical professionals, ask about COVID vaccinations for your child. Your child’s doctor will be able to advise you, based on Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines and their knowledge of your child’s health, whether your child will benefit from receiving the vaccine. Many parents feel more at ease after contacting their child’s pediatrician. You can ask in person, schedule a virtual appointment or pose your questions through the patient portal if your pediatrician’s affiliation supports one.
There is no question that the choice to vaccinate your minor children can be challenging. Even when both parents agree that the health and safety of their children are paramount, it can be tough to find common ground. Often mediation can help find mutual agreement between parents. Mediation is different from arbitration as you maintain control over the dispute instead of an ombudsman and a judge. Both a mediator and arbitrator are neutral third parties that may be able to help you settle your dispute over whether to vaccinate your child. The process is confidential. Mediation can be court-ordered if you’ve taken your dispute to family appellate court. Mediators have the best interests of your family in mind. Mediation can benefit families by:
- Helping families achieve satisfactory goals.
- Focusing on the best interests of minor children.
- Reaping economic benefits, including settlements, often in days, while reducing financial risk.
- Reducing stress, allowing more parental participation and resolution compliance.
Mediation can help parents with vaccination disputes to better understand each other’s position and identify areas where there’s an agreement, while discerning options for the benefit of the entire family, especially the minor children. Mediation is non-binding, even if court-ordered. This means if you do not sign the mediation agreement, the process may begin again.
Ask for Your Child’s Input
If your child is under age 18, they must have parental consent before receiving the COVID-19 vaccination according to Minnesota state law. It’s very important for parents to talk with their older children and get their thoughts on receiving vaccinations. Parents who have open-ended discussions where answers are more than yes or no can glean more honest opinions. Whatever your child’s input is, do not use it as leverage to alienate one parent or break any tie regarding vaccination stance. If you do, there is a potential that your child will feel at fault for the dissent.
Speak with a Parenting Consultant
Disputes over COVID vaccinations often benefit from an out-of-court parenting consultant. Parenting consultants contract with parents to address and resolve issues that don’t warrant addressing within the family court system. Once a binding contract is fulfilled, it is enforceable by the court. If you choose to work with a parenting consultant, you won’t enjoy a consultant-client privilege. This means that if a parenting consultant is subpoenaed to appear in court, that they may be asked to reveal any interactions with you regarding your contract. Whereas if you hire an attorney, you enjoy the client-attorney privilege. Hiring a parenting consultant is less expensive than hiring an attorney, which may trump client privilege in many family situations.
You May Have to Decide in Court
Irreconcilable disputes over COVID vaccination for your minor children may warrant addressing in the family court system should issues be irreconcilable between co-parents or in union with a parenting consultant. Minnesota courts will likely rule in the best interest of your child, but other factors can cause the court to be cautious when it comes to a decision regarding the COVID vaccine:
- If a minor child has an underlying condition
- CDC vaccination recommendations
- State vaccination recommendations or mandates
- Prior attempts at vaccine dispute resolution
- Legitimate parental objections or support for vaccination
- Prior family history
A family court will take any mitigating factors into consideration before rendering a decision that is in the best interests of your minor children. Should a parent disagree with the court decision, that parent has the right to appeal that decision. Parents should note that appeals can lengthen the court process further causing anxiety or animosity. It’s always in the best interests of a child not to enter into decisions lightly.
Have Questions on Coparenting through COVID?
Minnesota’s minor children, ages 5 through 17, are eligible for a COVID vaccination. Three out of four people ages five and up have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine as of February 2022. Parents with questions on co-parenting through COVID are encouraged to reach out to the experts at CJB Law for a free evaluation. Our goal is to help you find answers on co-parenting through COVID while sorting out your legal recourse in regard to vaccinating your child or not.