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Father and mother having disagreement while their child at home

How to Navigate COVID-19 Vaccines if Divorced Parents Don’t Agree

A recent study by Parents Together highlights that less than 60% of parents will have their child vaccinated against COVID. This leaves approximately 40% of parents undecided or unwilling to vaccinate their children. Separated and divorced parents’ feelings towards vaccines are no different than married parents. 

As children aged 12 and older are now eligible to receive a COVID vaccine, conflict is arising between one parent who wants a vaccine and one who is against it. Which parent prevails?

Related: Status of COVID-19 Vaccines for Children

The short answer is that it’s complicated and depends on several factors. Normally in parenting matters, most divorced couples with children work towards a compromise, putting the needs of their children first. In the case of a COVID vaccine, there isn’t a middle ground. A vaccine is either given or not. There is no in-between.

For parents who share children, a Custody Judgement may give one parent control over medical decisions. If divorced parents agree on vaccinating the child(ren) against COVID-19, they can proceed once they are eligible to receive their vaccine.

It gets tricky when divorced parents don’t agree on the issue. One option to resolve this disagreement involves a joint discussion between both parties. Making a pros/cons list is a good way to begin this process. List all the positives and the negatives to receiving the vaccine. 

Listen carefully to both parents, as each likely has strong feelings about the vaccine. Work toward finding common ground as with any other issues divorced parents may clash on. What decisions have both parents made that they both agree on?

Another option is to talk to the child. Sit down with both parents and the child and discuss receiving the vaccine. Children, especially those over the age of 12, have feelings about vaccines. Children and teens have had their regular development placed on hold, with socializing and school attendance restricted and increased feelings of isolation.

While involving the child in this discussion, remember that this conversation is not about winning over a parent. The discussion should center on what the child wants. Do they want to be vaccinated or not? This is the common ground where both parents can meet and begin to build a consensus. 

Related: Can Schools Require COVID-19 Vaccines?

Exploring Legal Channels

Sometimes despite their best efforts, divorced parents are unable to agree. When this occurs, there are legal avenues to explore, including possible court hearings. 

If a parent and their former partner disagree on whether their child should receive a COVID vaccine, they can petition to change the existing custody agreement. In most cases, parents may cite failure to consider the child’s best interests and endangerment of the child’s health. It’s entirely possible to change the entire custody agreement based solely on the vaccine conflict should the parents disagree.  

Across the country, divorce attorneys are preparing for parents battling about vaccinating children against COVID-19. In 2015 the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania upheld a ruling in favor of a father to receive sole custody. One of the reasons cited was that the father favored vaccines, while the mother was firmly against them. 

In the fall, those under the age of 12 may be eligible to receive a COVID vaccine. Addressing this issue before the child is eligible is wise and may save time and energy. While divorced parents juggle and wear multiple hats each day, many focus on ensuring their children are safe and protected, even from COVID-19. Co-parenting and working together for the child’s good is essential; ideally, parents will come to an agreement before the argument goes to court. 

Related: What Happens if Teens and Parents Disagree on COVID Vaccine?