Parents with split custody battling in court over vaccination of kids

Parents with joint legal custody can't make any vaccination decisions on their own
Posted at 6:15 PM, Jan 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-10 18:28:21-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Parents who share custody of their children are, in some cases, going to court over an inability to agree on vaccinating their kids against COVID-19.

“It seems like there’s a real surge of requests right now,” says attorney Stephanie Judd with Judd & Fricke in Grand Rapids. “It’s not uncommon for parents to disagree about medical decisions but vaccinations are usually a pretty rare one.”

Judd says most parents who are no longer together have joint legal custody over their children – so neither one parent is in a position to make decisions unilaterally.

“Most parents share legal custody decision making, so if you do share that, then neither parent has the right to unilaterally make any of those decisions on vaccinations, school enrollment, anything,” said Judd. “If one parent says I want the vaccine and one parent says they don’t, what parents are doing is getting a written recommendation from a pediatrician. It’s really not being treated any differently than any other medical decision.”

Judd says in most cases where juvenile medical issues are at hand in court, from braces to counseling to vaccines, a pediatrician’s recommendation will be the most important thing for a judge in determining a decision.

“That’s really what these medical decision-making processes hinge on,” said Judd. “Our family bench here in Kent County is also not in a position to go against the advice of a reputable pediatrician or a medical provider in general.”

People 5-and-older can now get the vaccine. Michigan is one of 41 states that requires parental consent for vaccination under the age of 18. In cases that do go to court, Judd recommends that people parenting jointly in favor of vaccination wait to get their kids the shot.

“With a vaccination, you can’t undo that, so I would certainly not advise any parent to go out and get a vaccine without court’s approval,” she said. “The only real repercussion that I think that they could hand down is taking way your right to participate in those decisions moving forward.”

Judd also recommends parents consider that court proceedings could take as long as 30-45 days to complete, and the dissent could cause kids confusion.

“Then the kids are left with a giant question mark and that’s really scary for a child who is not old enough to make these choices on their own,” she said.