What happens when divorced parents disagree on child COVID-19 vaccinations?
TORONTO -- Separated and divorced parents often have disagreements on parenting issues, but the approval of certain COVID-19 vaccines for older children raises the question of what happens when one parent wants their child vaccinated and the other parent is against it?
The issue of vaccinations – COVID-19 and others – can be particularly challenging for parents to compromise on because of firmly entrenched views and Laura Paris, an associate lawyer at Shulman & Partners LLP, says it tends to be an issue that must be resolved in court.
“It’s a bit of a difficult issue to avoid court on, the reason being is that it’s a very polarized issue,” Paris told CTV’s Your Morning on Friday. “In order to come to any sort of compromise one person is going to give up on their position.”
Paris said that courts making decisions related to children generally focus on what’s in the child’s best interests and, in matters related to the pandemic and safety concerns, they generally take their lead from public health officials’ guidance.
The question of vaccinating children for COVID-19 is obviously a new one, as Health Canada just approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 12 and older last week. But Paris pointed to one recent Ontario case involving vaccination as an example of how courts may deal with the issue going forward.
The case involved separated parents who had not yet agreed on custody and were at odds over whether to vaccinate their 7-year-old child, with the mother against doing so.
“The court looked at the look at the factors and looked at basically the history of the case and saw that in most respects, mom made very good decisions for the child,” said Paris. “But on that one particular issue as it related to the vaccine, the court could not stand behind that decision.”
The court ultimately granted the mother sole parental decision-making on all issues relating to the child’s education, religion, health and well-being, except for the issue of vaccines, where the father was given the power to decide.
“Using the public health guidelines as a benchmark, (the court found) that mom's decision not to have the child vaccinated would not be within her best interests,” said Paris.
While compromise on the issue can be difficult, Paris said she has recommended some clients who differ on the issue of COVID-19 vaccinations should consider waiting until there is more clarity: perhaps when they are formally approved by Health Canada, for example, rather than under the current emergency order.
However, once the vaccines are given full approval, Paris said it’s difficult to envision a case where courts would rule in favour of a parent wanting to prevent their child from being vaccinated.
“It would have to come down to something specific to the child. If the child has some sort of underlying condition, allergy, something to that affect where that particular child may be at risk with respect to this vaccine, certainly you could win the case in that regard. You would definitely need to have requisite medical evidence that would demonstrate that this vaccine is not recommended for this particular child.”