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What happens when co-parents disagree about vaccinations?

On Behalf of | Apr 10, 2022 | Family Law

While vaccine debates have become especially vitriolic over the past year or so, some people have been strongly against having their children vaccinated for a range of diseases for many years. So what happens when parents with differing views on childhood vaccines divorce and share custody of their children?

Some of these couples are ending up back in court in costly legal battles because one wants to get their children vaccinated while the other doesn’t. In some cases, one parent has gotten their children vaccinated anyway. 

Doing what most medical professionals say is best for the health of your child likely won’t affect your custody rights. Nonetheless, it may not keep your ex from trying to use the legal system to punish you.

What if both parents have the right to make medical decisions?

If parents share legal custody of a child, both will typically have a right to make medical decisions based on what is in the child’s best interests. Unfortunately, parents can have very different opinions about what that is – and likely both find pediatricians who back up their beliefs.

If a couple goes to court over the matter, the decision could depend on the judge’s own beliefs on the matter. Even getting to court can take time, as it may not be considered an emergency situation. Couples may choose to go to mediation and work out an agreement on their own. However, there’s really no middle ground when it comes to vaccinating or not vaccinating a child.

When does North Dakota allow exemptions from childhood vaccinations?

North Dakota allows parents to “claim an exemption to vaccination for personal belief (religious and moral/philosophical) reasons,” medical reasons or because they’ve already had the disease. The latter two must be verified by a doctor. 

Doctors have become all too aware that they can get in the middle of co-parent disputes. Back in 2017, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advised, “It is prudent for the physician to inquire about marital status and custody issues when relevant” to vaccinations.

If you’re still in the process of working out your custody agreement, it’s wise to address this issue so you don’t end up in court or mediation later.