COVID Vaccine and the Effect of Legal Custody

Every good parent wants the best for their children. In a perfect world, two parents would always agree with one another on how to raise their child and what’s best for them. But that’s not always the case. So, what happens when two parents have strikingly different views on what’s best for their child?

Which doctor should the child see? What kind of medicine should they take? What kinds of activities/sports should they participate in? These are all issues parents will deal with in regards to Legal Custody of a child. It’s easiest for most parents to conceptualize physical custody of a child. Physical custody deals with who has possession of the child, ie., where does the child sleep overnight. On the other hand, legal custody deals with the right to make major decisions on behalf of the child, including, but not limited to medical, religious, and educational decisions.

Legal custody and physical custody are two distinct concepts that are not always in relation to one another. Just because one parent has more physical custody than the other does not mean they have the final word in decisions pertaining to legal custody.

The Courts will frequently strive for shared legal custody between parents. This means that both parents have an equal right and say in major decisions of their children’s lives. Both parents have a right to go to doctor’s appointments, discuss medical issues with doctors, and decide what is best for their child. This, obviously, can create many problems amongst parents with different views.

Before Covid, attorneys frequently dealt with parents debating where their children should go to school or whether the children should start prescriptions, like ADHD medication. These topics were and are still very hotly debated between different parents.

With the release of the Covid 19 Vaccine, the issue of whether children should be vaccinated has sparked a new hot button topic for many parents. Taking the politics of vaccines out of the equation, many parents still disagree on whether their children should or should not be vaccinated.

In a 2022 decision, the Pennsylvania Superior Court effectively permitted one parent to get their child vaccinated over the objection of the other parent due to the supporting testimony by an expert. In this case, a mother and father shared legal custody of their child. The mother discussed with the father the need to have their child receive the Covid vaccine and the father objected, out of his concern for safety risks posed by the vaccine.

To support her position, the mother called on a highly-respected doctor to provide expert testimony in favor of the child receiving the vaccine. To the contrary, the father did not provide his own expert testimony to defend his position, but rather stated his own personal opinions on the matter. The Superior Court ultimately held that the father’s arguments were insufficient. The Court would not disrupt the consideration of and reliance on a medical professional’s advice where the opposing side provided no evidence to contradict their testimony.

Regardless of where people stand on the issue of the Covid vaccine for children, this particular case poses a valuable lesson. If a parent is truly concerned about the course of treatment for their child, they may need to do more than simply voice their objection. If the parents cannot come to an agreement, they may have to argue their point in court with a judge making the final decision. When arguing medical treatment for a child, it is advisable for litigants to support their arguments with the use of a medical expert. This could make all the difference in the final decision.

These cases can be very complex, and it is important that you speak with an experienced attorney to talk about your specific situation. If you have more questions regarding custody rights to your grandchild, please set-up a consult with one of our skilled family law attorneys at Lancaster Law Group, LLC.