Courts are accustomed to ruling on intimate family matters to ensure the needs of children are served, however COVID-19 has triggered many disputes on conservatorship issues amongst parents. Judges have been forced to rule on disputes lacking clear legal precedent. Earlier in the pandemic, parental disagreements centered largely on the necessity of social distancing precautions and virtual vs. in-person learning. Now parents face another area of potential strife: Whether to vaccinate their children against COVID-19.

Ambiguous language in conservatorship orders is at the crux of the issue. If the court has ordered both parents equally entitled to make medical decisions, who has the ultimate say?

 Before considering court intervention, we recommend starting with the following:

  • Refer to Court Written Orders: Perhaps you haven’t needed to refer to your court order in years, but this is the appropriate place to start. Conservatorship orders will either provide clarity on which parent has the ultimate right to make medical decisions or you may find that orders are unclear and subject to interpretation.
  • Outsource Decision Making to Pediatrician: It can be difficult to remove emotions from the equation but take a moment to consider if you are appropriately informed and qualified to make this decision outright. One possible solution is to default to the guidance of your pediatrician, leaving medical decisions squarely in the hands of medical experts.
  • Explore Mediation: Mediation is a meeting where the parties discuss the dispute and work toward a resolution with the help of an impartial third party (the “mediator”). Mediation can help reduce the overall temperature of the conversation, allowing the parties to express thoughts, concerns, and ultimately offer solutions. Mediation encourages creativity and flexibility for problem-solving. For example, parents may not even agree on whichpediatrician’s advice to follow. A mediator can help outline and facilitate the process of finding a trusted medical professional that both parents believe is credible and impartial.

If you do end up in front of a judge, consider the following trends in rulings:

  • Judges are not inclined to make rulings that “micro-manage” parental disagreements.
  • Courts are unlikely to order a child be vaccinated but may designate one parent as the “medical-decision tie-breaker”.
  • The burden of proof may fall to the parent who is opposed to the vaccine, requiring that parent to show why vaccinating is notin the best interest of the child.
  • Parents who are opposed to vaccinating the child may present evidence to support scientific, religious, and moral claims. They may also argue that the vaccine is unsafe, especially for children with a history of allergic reactions or sensitives.

Ultimately, the issue may not get resolved outside of court. If you are feeling overwhelmed with choices and unsure of the best way to proceed, contact family law attorneys at Maples | Jones for further guidance.