I was recently asked how the Covid vaccine might affect custody issues. Of course, it’s too early to talk much about the actual cases, but I assume that in most cases, vaccine availability won’t have much of an impact. However, there are some areas that can create conflict between parents as it is difficult to tell when the world is going to be “back to normal”.
Parental conflicts over the vaccine and children
However, one area where there could be an impact would be if one parent is against the child receiving the vaccine and the other parents support the delivery of the vaccine. As with all other anti-Vaxxer argument cases, I would expect the courts to tend to side with the parents who argue for the vaccine and not see the argument against it in the best interests of the child. When a parent is deemed not to serve the best interests of the child, a court tends to favor the parent whom it considers to be better serving the child.
On the other hand, if there was a dispute over whether the child should be vaccinated, the court could simply deal with it by making a decision that would allow one parent to have the vaccination done. Once that is done, the child’s best interests argument can go away as placing the child with parents who do not want the vaccine may no longer affect the child’s best interests.
Will Courts Prefer Parents Receiving the Covid Vaccine?
Another scenario that parents may wonder about is where one parent has been vaccinated and the other has not. To the extent that it is a matter of vaccine suitability (one parent becomes eligible before the other), this appears to be a short-term issue only and is therefore not relevant to long-term custody decisions.
Even if it’s a parent who refuses to be vaccinated, I have trouble seeing how this could affect custody decisions. As long as the child can be vaccinated, any harm that the child moves between the two environments would primarily be done to the unvaccinated parent, leaving them primarily at risk only to themselves. If the parent also refused to vaccinate the child, this is a separate issue and we can fall back on the analysis above.
However, if for some reason the child is unable to get a vaccine (vaccine not approved for this age group, child is particularly at risk, etc.) there could be an argument that the child’s exposure to the parent who refuses to be vaccinated could be , should be limited.
Regarding the filing for a change in custody due to the refusal of vaccination, I would expect the court to ask for evidence of greater potential harm. While an initial custody decision is more about weighing the relative advantages each parent has to offer, the presumption of change tends to leave the situation as it is unless there is a potential disadvantage to that Child who outweighs the harm to which the child is moved to a different environment. Therefore, I would expect the court to look for evidence that maintaining the existing custody regime is not only potentially harmful to the child, but that there is a high likelihood that it will be harmful to the child. This would mean assessing the risk to the child if exposed to the unvaccinated parent.
Does the Covid vaccine mean schools will reopen fully?
In the case of the Covid vaccine, an additional factor could be whether it would be necessary to receive the vaccine in order for the child to return to school when schools reopen. If the failure to vaccinate the child potentially interfered with the return to school, it would likely be another factor leading the court to move to primary placement with the pro-vaccine parent.
We are here for you
Unfortunately, our Seattle attorneys may not have crucial answers to your Covid questions. Much remains to be seen when people across the county are vaccinated. However, we are here to assist you with your other custody and visiting issues, and we promise to help you to the best of our ability. Give us a call or send us a message today to see how we can help you.