Now that children aged 12 and over are approved for COVID vaccinations, some divorced parents, or those in the process of divorce, disagree about whether they want their children to be vaccinated. Parents may feel they are at an impasse and unsure of how to resolve their differences over this important issue.
Parents often do not realize that a vaccination, which involves puncturing the skin, can be considered to be an invasive procedure. This is the same with tattoos and piercings. Many dental procedures, like root canals, are invasive procedures that need parental consent from the parent who is in charge of making healthcare decisions.
How to Resolve the Conflict Between Parents Without Court Intervention
Parents who are divorced need to look to their court order, which in Texas is called the Final Decree of Divorce. It often gives one parent the exclusive right to make invasive healthcare decisions. If that is the way the order reads, then the parent with that authority makes the final decision.
If the order grants joint decision-making, and the parents continue to disagree, they may benefit from the help of a mediator or submit the issue to a parenting coordinator or facilitator. Some divorce orders require the couple to go to mediation when they are unable to agree. Also, if a petition is filed with the court asking for court guidance or modification of the Divorce Decree, the court will generally refer the couple to mediation before making a final decision.
When parents are not yet divorced and just going through the process, and they disagree about the COVID vaccinations, they can benefit from either mediation or collaborative divorce to help them resolve the issue without court intervention.
Petitioning the Court for Assistance
When parents have tried to settle the matter and they still cannot agree, they may petition the court for an original or modified order. As with any legal issue, there are no guarantees as to the outcome. Evidence the court is likely to consider includes:
- Which parent determines the primary residence of the child?
- Who has historically made the healthcare decisions?
- How old is the child? Currently, only children ages 12 and up are eligible for vaccinations but the vaccine is expected to soon be available to children under the age of 12.
- Does the child have any underlying health conditions?
- What are the wishes of the child?
The court will decide based on what it determines is in the best interest of the child.
Defying the Court Order
If a parent who does not have invasive healthcare decision-making authority has the child vaccinated against the will of the parent who has that authority, the parent violating the court order could be found to be in contempt of court. Contempt prosecutions may result in jail time and/or a hefty fine.
The court may impose other penalties, such as limiting the general decision-making authority of the parent who is in contempt.