How Vaccination Disputes Are Resolved for Divorced Parents
While Pennsylvania is still in the early phases of COVID-19 vaccine distribution, the debate rages on regarding vaccines. Despite significant scientific evidence that shows that vaccines have few side effects and the benefits far outweigh the risks, many people still refuse to get vaccinated and even prevent their children from receiving this life-saving immunization. This debate can be handled in private between parents, but after a divorce, it may impact a custody battle.
Who Decides If a Child Gets Vaccinated?
Child custody in Pennsylvania is divided between physical custody and legal custody. Parents who have physical custody get to choose where a child lives, while legal custody means a parent gets to make important legal decisions like where a child goes to school and what medical treatment the child can receive. Only a parent who has legal custody can decide to vaccinate the child.
But there is a complication. After a divorce, one parent may have sole physical custody and also have sole legal custody, but usually, parents have joint custody, meaning they both have legal custody.
How Do Courts Resolve Vaccination Debates?
With regard to the COVID-19 vaccine, it is unclear how involved courts may become with these disagreements. When parents have joint custody, Pennsylvania courts prefer for them to settle their disagreements out of court, but they can become involved if one parent files a petition for emergency custody. Emergency custody is typically only granted in serious cases where the court is worried about a child’s safety and health, but it has been issued in the past to ensure a child receives a vaccination. In the case of B.C.S. v. T.S.S., 121 A.3d 1137, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled against a mother who opposed vaccination and granted legal custody to the father in order to ensure the child received proper medical care.
In addition, Pennsylvania laws also require all public school children to receive vaccinations before attending school, but this law only applies to certain diseases and has yet to be updated for COVID-19. If Pennsylvania schools do require parents to vaccinate their children against COVID-19, then parents would be legally required to get their children vaccinated. It is important to remember there are two exceptions to this rule, however, which include:
- Parents can refuse vaccination if it is a danger to the child’s health, such as if the vaccine causes a serious allergic reaction.
- Parents can refuse vaccination based on religious beliefs.
If you can come to an agreement about vaccinations with your ex, then that is often the best solution. Mediation is one way for parents to sit down with an objective third-party who can talk through their arguments and hear both sides. You should be prepared to bring up several scientific studies and research to support your case. However, if the other parent refuses to vaccinate your child against COVID-19 and you do not have legal custody, then you may need to speak to an attorney about your options.
Contact a Dedicated Family Law Attorney
For more than 25 years, the Law Offices of Sheryl R. Rentz, P.C., has worked with parents who are worried about their children’s safety after a divorce. We understand you are in a very difficult situation and need to know your legal rights. Our Montgomery County child custody attorney can sit down with you in a free consultation to discuss your options and explain how you can advocate for your child’s best interests. We will never pressure you to take your case to court if you do not have to and will work with you to reach a positive outcome. To get started, call the Law Offices of Sheryl R. Rentz, P.C., at (610) 645-0100 today.