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My ex is refusing consent to have our child vaccinated against Covid-19; what can I do?

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With children as young as 12 now being offered the Covid-19 vaccine, parents are currently considering whether to consent to their child receiving their doses.  This option does also beg the question; what happens if one parent does not wish their child to be vaccinated and the other does?   Sam Miles, Partner in our Family Law department, explains more today about the legal position for parents and how you can move forward with the minimum amount of hostility and disruption for your child.

Do parents have to consent to the Covid-19 vaccine for their children?

The vaccination programme has had great success in the UK in controlling the spread of Covid-19 and so it is only natural that the rollout extends to children across the country.  As with adults, it is not mandatory for children to be vaccinated and parents with parental responsibility for the child are asked to give their consent before vaccination.

This distinction of parental responsibility is important in this discussion as this can vary from family to family.  Those with parental responsibility have equal rights in terms of the child and making decisions, however it is not always straight forward to determine who has parental responsibility in the case of fathers:

  • Where the mother and father are married at the time the child was born, they are both automatically assigned parental responsibility. 
  • Fathers who are not married to the mother but are named on the birth certificate (if the child was born after the 1 December 2003) have parental responsibility. 
  • Civil partners and partners of the mother who are on the birth certificate will also have parental responsibility.
  • Fathers who are not married to the mother and their child was born before 1 December 2003 will not have automatic parental responsibility, but there are ways that a biological father can obtain this.

“We have seen in recent years an increase in those who do not believe in vaccinations and so in a growing number of situations, one parent agrees with having their child vaccinated while the other doesn’t,” begins Sam.  “Unless one parent is willing to forego their principles and beliefs, which is not likely with something of this nature, then the decision can lead to disputes particularly when the parents are separated.”

What steps can I take if my ex won’t agree with vaccinating our child?

In the first instance, we would suggest Family Mediation, which can give you both the opportunity to have your views heard with the intention to come to an agreement with the assistance of a neutral third party.  Family Mediation is generally successful for separating parents when discussing arrangements for children, and medical care and treatment is no exception to this as it allows both parties to be listened to while the Mediator provides different insights, perspectives and outcomes to their discussions.

In the rare situation when this does not produce an agreement, you could consider applying for a Specific Issue Order or a Prohibited Steps Order.  For both of these orders, this means that a Judge would make a ruling about a decision about the child.  This can be for a number of issues such as names, taking children abroad, education or religious upbringing, or for medical disagreements.  A Specific Issue Order is to receive a decision on an issue that has arisen and a Judge is required to rule either way, while a Prohibited Steps Order is to prevent a parent from taking a certain course of action, for example, having a child vaccinated.

“While this may seem like a logical step if the parents cannot agree, we would always recommend you try and reach agreement without resorting to the Courts,” explains Sam.  “The main reason is that you and your ex will both lose control of the situation and have the decision removed from both of your hands.  This can lead to more hostility and tension when you could have come to an agreement yourselves.”

In reaching their ruling, the Court would always put the child at the centre of the decision and would consider a number of factors, including but not limited to:

  • The wishes of the child, if applicable due to their age
  • The physical, emotional and educational needs of the child
  • The likely effect of any change in circumstances
  • The capability of the parents in question
  • Any harm the child could come to in light of decisions made

“There have been similar cases to this in the past, for example for the MMR vaccine, and historically  Court decisions have ruled in favour of a child having their vaccination,” explains Sam.  “While this may not be the case in all rulings, most recently a Judge was commented as stating that when the Covid-19 vaccine has been approved for use in children and there is scientific evidence regarding the benefits, it would be difficult to see when this would not be endorsed by the court as being in the child’s best interests.”

Can my ex stop me seeing my children if I’m not vaccinated?

Another complication arising from this situation is if one parent does not feel comfortable in their unvaccinated former partner continuing contact with their child. 

“This is another situation where Family Mediation can be extremely useful, however it does also depend on what formal agreement there already is in place regarding contact with children,” explains Sam.  “If there is a contact order in place, it can be difficult to deny contact with a child as it would be going against the order and the parent who is being denied contact would have grounds to go to Court.  This is why Mediation can be so useful in this situation to avoid the complications and delays of the already backlogged Court system.”

We know that separated parents will already be juggling a number of different issues without adding to this the pressures that have arisen from the last two years of the Covid-19 pandemic.  If you are currently experiencing disagreement with your former partner about the Covid-19 vaccine for your children or contact rights, you can discuss this with us today on 023 8071 7431 or email mediation@warnergoodman.co.uk.

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.