I was recently asked how the Covid vaccine might affect child custody issues. Of course it is too early to tell much from actual cases, but my expectation is that in most cases the availability of the vaccine will not have a great impact. There are, however, some areas that could lead to conflicts between parents as it’s hard to identify when the world will be “back to normal.”
Parental Conflicts Regarding the Vaccine and Children
However, one area in which there might be some impact would be where one parent is opposed to the child receiving the vaccine and the other parents supports giving the vaccine. As with any other cases involving anti-vaxxer arguments, I would expect that the courts will tend to side with the parent arguing for the vaccine and view the argument against as not in the child’s best interest. If a parent is viewed as not serving the child’s best interests, then a court would tend to lean towards favoring the parent who they see as better serving the child’s best interests.
On the other hand, if there was an argument about whether to vaccinate the child, the court might just deal with it by ruling to allow the one parent to have the vaccination done. Once it is done, the argument about child’s best interests may evaporate as placing the child with the parent not wanting the vaccine might no longer have any impact on the child’s best interests.
Will Courts Favor the Parent That Receive the Covid Vaccine?
Another scenario parents may wonder about is where one parent has been vaccinated and the other has not. To the extent that the issue is eligibility for the vaccine (one parent becomes eligible before the other), this would appear to be only a short term issue and thus not relevant to any long term custody decisions.
Even if the issue is one parent refusing to be vaccinated, I struggle to see how this might impact custody decisions. As long as the child can be vaccinated, any harm from the child moving back and forth between the two environments would be primarily to the unvaccinated parent, so they are primarily only endangering themself. If the parent was also refusing to allow the child to be vaccinated, then that is a separate issue and we can go back to the analysis above.
However, if the child is unable to have a vaccine for some reason (vaccine not approved for that age group, child has special vulnerability, etc.) then there might be an argument that the child’s exposure to the parent refusing to be vaccinated should be limited.
In terms of requesting a modification of custody arrangements based on refusal to vaccinate, then I would expect the court to require a showing of a higher level of potential harm. While in an initial custody determination the issue is more about weighing the relative benefits each parent has to offer, in a modification hearing the presumption favors leaving the situation as is unless there is potential detriment to the child which outweighs the harm of moving the child to a different environment. Thus I would expect the court to look for evidence that preserving the existing custody arrangement is not just possibly detrimental to the child, but that there is a strong likelihood that is will be harmful to the child. That would mean evaluating the level of risk to the child from being exposed to the unvaccinated parent.
Does the Covid Vaccine Mean That Schools Will Fully Re-Open?
In the case of the Covid vaccine, an additional factor might be whether receiving the vaccine would be required for the child to return to school as the schools reopen. If failure to vaccinate the child was potentially interfering with the return to school, that would likely be another factor inclining the court towards primary placement with the pro-vaccine parent.
We’re Here for You
Unfortunately, our Seattle family lawyers may not have decisive answers to your Covid questions. Much remains to be seen once more people throughout the county become vaccinated. That said, we are here to help you with your other custody and visitation questions 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.