In November, the pharmaceutical company known as Pfizer announced they have a vaccine for children ages five and above. While this was a relief for many parents across the globe, it also became another source of co-parenting contention for others. Everyday more and more parents are taking their ex-partners to court over disagreements regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. Family law firms all over Washington have seen a huge uptick in calls—whether they are calls to challenge another parent’s authority to vaccinate or to dispute the argument the COVID-19 vaccine isn’t within the best interest of the child.
These court battles are becoming expensive and lengthy as tensions build due to inconsistent mask rules, misinformation, and reports of hospitalized children due to COVID-19. The chaotic back-and-forth between those who are cautious of the vaccine and those who support it have yielded drastic contrasting results for courts in different jurisdictions.
Shared Legal Custody in Regard to COVID-19
Some parents are under the incorrect assumption that if they have a greater share of physical custodial time, they have ultimate control over the child’s medical decisions. However, this is actually a misconception. In Washington, absent a basis for restrictions in a parenting plan, most parents have joint decision-making. That means that both parents must make a unanimous decision regarding major issues on the child’s education, religious upbringing, as well as medical care. That includes whether the child should be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.
Parents are discouraged from making any unilateral decision about the COVID-19 vaccine until they have spoken to their ex-spouse or ex-partner. Even parents who were never married will generally have shared legal custody—so if you never married your ex that is something to keep in mind. Parents without a pending divorce or custodial agreement, however, are lawfully allowed to vaccinate their children without express permission from the other parent.
Vaccination Requirements for Washington State Schools
Although some states require vaccination for public and private schools like California, many U.S. states do not. Most families are given autonomy over the decision to vaccinate depending on their marital status, terms of any court order regarding legal shared custody, and recommendations from medical professionals.
In the State of Washington, vaccination is not required for in-person education at K-12 schools. However, school districts warn parents and students the vaccine is the strongest protective measure against COVID-19 and that they will be implementing social distancing strategies to attempt to contain the virus. All students, volunteers, visitors, and staff must wear face coverings indoors at school and masks must also be worn in gatherings where 500 or more people are present. Teachers and staff, however, are required to be fully vaccinated thanks to the Proclamation 21-14.1 directive from Governor Inslee on August 18, 2021.
The State of Washington has passed legislation requiring children to vaccinate in the past. In 2019, the State passed House Bill 1638, which removed the personal and philosophical option to exempt children from the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine required for entry in schools and childcare facilities. The law was passed in an effort to decrease the frequency of measles as 85 cases were found in Washington State from January – July 2019. Now, children must have two doses of the MMR vaccine to be allowed to enter into any school unless they have a medical or religious exemption.
The Bottom Line: Parents Must Agree on Vaccination
Despite the school district’s rules, in the end only the child’s parents can determine whether a vaccine is appropriate for their child or not. If the parents have an established parenting plan that requires joint decision-making, then the issue must be taken to court.
Attorneys across the area have seen a slew of coronavirus vaccination cases and they keep growing by the day. Our team at Law Offices of Shana E. Thompson recommend hiring experienced legal counsel who can collect compelling evidence for your argument. To speak to a qualified Washington family law attorney today, call our offices at (206) 712-2756. We accept clients throughout the greater Snohomish County and King County, Washington area.