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What happens when co-parents disagree about vaccinating a child?

On Behalf of | Jun 23, 2022 | Family Law |

Vaccines have become a hotly debated topic – even within families – over the past couple of years. However, some people have always had strong opinions about whether vaccines – even those required by schools — are safe for children.

Here in Texas, parents can elect not to have their child vaccinated by claiming an “exemption for reasons of conscience,” and providing the necessary documents to the school and/or daycare facility. These “reasons of conscience” don’t necessarily have to be religious, and there are some exceptions to the rule. 

Whether to have children vaccinated and what vaccinations they get can be one more source of conflict for separated and divorced parents who share custody. There’s no easy answer, but it’s important to understand how custody and vaccinations intersect.

Understanding how legal custody works

First, it’s important to understand whether you have a right to make this and other medical decisions for your child. Many parents who share physical custody also both have legal custody. Legal custody typically gives a parent the right to make decisions around a child’s health care, religious practices and education.

When parents share legal custody, their agreement often gives one parent the final say in health care matters where they disagree unless it’s an emergency. One parent may have the final say in educational issues, while the other decides religious matters.

If the other parent were to have their child vaccinated knowing the other parent’s beliefs, they could end up back in court, possibly having to provide expert testimony that what they did was in the child’s best interest.

Most pediatricians don’t want to get in the middle of these battles. That’s why in 2017, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) said, “It is prudent for the physician to inquire about marital status and custody issues when relevant” to vaccinations and other medical care.

If you’re still negotiating your custody agreement with a co-parent who has different views about some or all vaccinations for your child, it’s probably best to deal with the issue now – even if your child isn’t old enough for required vaccinations yet. If you hash out your views while you both have legal guidance, it may add to the rancor between you. However, if you codify whatever agreement you reach, you’re less likely to have to deal with it later.