On May 10, 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expanded its emergency use authorization (EUA) of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to include children ages 12 to 15. The FDA previously authorized teens ages 16 and older to receive the Pfizer COVID vaccinations in December 2020. This latest authorization could open the door to litigation for divorced couples who disagree about vaccinating their children, especially if schools or the federal government mandates COVID vaccinations for children in public schools.
Are vaccinations considered invasive procedures? It depends on who you ask
As with other types of vaccinations, parents often have different opinions regarding whether COVID vaccinations constitute an invasive procedure or not. If a vaccine is classified as invasive, a parent in Texas with the right to make medical decisions for their children would get to decide whether or not their child gets vaccinated.
We also find split opinions about vaccinations in the Texas courts and legal community. For divorced couples, the court’s decision will depend on which court they’re in and whether or not that court considers a COVID vaccination invasive.
If schools or the government mandate COVID vaccinations, things could get complicated for divorced parents
In the past, we’ve seen schools mandate that children receive other types of vaccinations before attending school. Consequently, it isn’t too farfetched to assume that we may see some Texas schools mandate that children receive COVID-19 vaccinations before returning to campus in the fall.
Schools won’t have a choice if the federal government mandates COVID vaccinations for public schools, which could result in a home school vs. go to school debate for some parents.
Here’s where the COVID vaccination discussion could get complicated and litigious:
When it comes to the right to make educational decisions for a child (an enumerated right in the Texas Family Code), if one parent has the right to make educational decisions, and the school itself requires vaccinations, that parent may potentially be able to decide whether or not their child gets the COVID vaccine—that is until the question of invasiveness enters the picture.
Consider the following scenario: Parent A has the right to make educational decisions, while Parent B has the right to make medical decisions. If Parent A (education) is a proponent of COVID vaccinations for children but Parent B is NOT, Parent B (medical) could make the argument that vaccinations are invasive procedures and he or she has the right to decide whether their child receives the COVID vaccination.
Should Parent B oppose vaccinations, he or she could file a motion with the court to prevent the child from attending the vaccine-mandated school that Parent A has chosen for the child. Once in court, parents are at the mercy of the court and the judge’s opinion on the invasiveness of vaccines.
We rarely see a cross-over of decision making when it comes to educational and medical decisions for children
In family cases you typically don’t think about the cross-pollination of rights. The courts usually look at school and residence together but you rarely see scenarios where the right to make school and medical decisions goes hand-in-hand.
We see more issues like these today than we did in the past, as more family courts are taking the 50/50 kumbaya approach to child custody. In these situations, the court often gives one parent the right to make educational decisions and the other parent the right to make medical decisions, while the question remains: Is a vaccination an invasive procedure or not?
The COVID vaccinations for children scenario could turn into a unique circumstance where school and medical decisions may be uniquely correlated. Again, it’s going to be a situation where you have schools requiring vaccines and some divorced parents at odds due to the invasive procedure debate.
Divorced couples should have the COVID vaccination conversation sooner rather than later
As family law lawyers in Fort Worth TX, our law firm always stresses to clients the importance of honest, open communication between parents. When parents don’t communicate well, issues can arise and explode.
In the case of COVID-19 vaccinations, it’s best if parents start talking about their preferences and sort out any disagreements in the event school and government mandates roll in. Divorced couples should discuss their belief systems on vaccines and have a plan in place to move forward. That way, regardless of which entity mandates vaccines, divorced parents end up with a scenario where they are fundamentally on the same page.
Trouble always arises in family cases when parents don’t communicate, even on topics that they agree on. Specifically, you may have Parent A find out Parent B already had their child vaccinated, while Parent A assumed they would handle it themself. Parents may also disagree on which vaccine is best for their children. When you start considering the different scenarios and logistics involved, good communication between divorced parents on the COVID vaccinations topic will be key.
On the other hand, divorced couples who vehemently disagree as to whether or not their children should receive COVID vaccinations may very well end up in court. Unfortunately, with the current backlog of cases in the Texas family courts (due to COVID-19), getting in front of a judge prior to the fall semester could be challenging.
Have questions about parental rights and COVID vaccinations?
If you are a divorced parent in Texas and want to find out what rights you have regarding the vaccination of your child, it’s best to speak with an attorney who understands the complexities of parental rights. To speak with a family law attorney Fort Worth, contact the Sisemore Law Firm at (817) 336-4444 or connect with us online.
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