When Parents Disagree about Vaccinating Children against COVID-19


The COVID-19 pandemic has left us all with plenty of questions and very few absolute answers, but what we do know is that being vaccinated against COVID-19 offers considerable protection. Approval for children’s vaccines, however, was slower to materialize than the approvals for adult vaccines, which leaves many parents – even some who embraced the vaccines for themselves – hesitant to have their children vaccinated.

On the other hand, there are plenty of parents who are counting the days until their children can be vaccinated. In other words, views are varied, and because children are involved, it raises the stakes considerably. When parents who share custody of their children disagree on this pivotal issue, the matter becomes that much more complicated. If you and your children’s other parent disagree on the issue of vaccinating your children against COVID-19, reach out to an experienced California family law attorney for the legal guidance you need regarding legal custody.

In California, many divorced parents share joint legal custody, which means that they share primary decision-making authority, and this includes making decisions about the following:

  • Their children’s schooling
  • Their children’s religious upbringing
  • Their children’s extracurricular activities
  • Their children’s travel and vacations
  • Their children’s residence
  • Their children’s health care, which is where the issue of COVID-19 vaccinations falls

When parents share legal custody, primary decisions such as those related to vaccinations need to be resolved between them. Further, the issue of vaccines for COVID-19 is so new and so inherently divisive that many parents find themselves bitterly disagreeing over whether or not their children should be vaccinated. And now that the CDC recommends that most children as young as five years old be vaccinated, the issue has become that much more pressing.

Turning to a Trusted Doctor

When parents share legal custody, it means that they need to make primary healthcare decisions for the child together, and this includes coming to an agreement about the doctor or pediatrician who sees to their children’s healthcare needs. This makes their children’s doctor an excellent resource when it comes to making a decision about COVID-19 vaccinations. Parents who are at odds regarding having their children vaccinated can look to their children’s trusted doctor for his or her recommendation regarding whether or not each specific child is a good candidate (in terms of his or her health) for receiving the vaccine – and at what age.

If the doctor’s advice doesn’t resolve the issue – and the parents can find no common ground regarding vaccinations – they will very likely need the court’s guidance on who can make the decision. The fact is that more and more parents who cannot agree on the matter of COVID-19 vaccines for their children are turning to the courts to forge a path forward.

Turning to the Court

While several states allow minor children to receive COVID-19 vaccines without obtaining parental consent, California is not one of them. When parents are married, either one has the legal right to have a child vaccinated without the consent of the other parent. However, when parents are not married and share legal custody of their children, it makes unilateral decisions of this magnitude a decidedly different matter. Because the pandemic has clogged the already overworked courts in the State of California and elsewhere, scheduling time in front of a judge on the matter of a child’s vaccination decision can take far longer than parents are likely to expect.

The Court’s Stance

When California courts make decisions that pertain to children, they always put the best interests of the children at the forefront. Within this context, however, the court will also consider any unique matters that may be relevant to why the parents disagree. Ultimately, each parent is required – generally via his or her respective family law attorney – to present his or her side of the argument (along with all corroborating evidence). The judge will then rule on which parent has the right to make this decision, while still maintaining joint custody regarding other matters.

It’s important to note that the matter of COVID-19 vaccines for children is so new, and reactions to the pandemic are so highly charged that there have been a variety of surprising responses coming out of the courts (as reported by the Los Angeles Times).

An Experienced California Family Law Attorney Can Help

If you and your ex are at odds regarding having your shared children vaccinated against COVID-19, don’t wait to consult with an accomplished California family law attorney for the legal guidance you need.