Will the new coronavirus vaccine cause issues for separated parents?

Will the new coronavirus vaccine cause issues for separated parents?

The coronavirus vaccine is a ray of hope which will hopefully set the world back on the right path, meaning we can all begin to participate in things that we love.

Gemma Sparks, Senior Associate and Team Leader, Children & Domestic Abuse Response Team at The Family Law Company has shared her insights with Today’s Family Lawyer on the impact and issues the vaccine could have on separated parents.

Will the new coronavirus vaccine cause issues for separated parents?

Although still some way off, young people will eventually be offered a Coronavirus vaccine. We’re already seeing on the news and social media that some people are unsure about whether they even want to have the vaccine. At the extreme are ‘anti-vaxxers’, who include parents not wanting their children to be vaccinated. Others may disagree with vaccinations on religious grounds.

It’s a discussion that parents may need to have. However, for separated parents, dealing with child contact between households and confusion about lockdown guidelines has meant that opportunities to keep lines of communication open and amicable have been incredibly challenging. As family lawyers it is our duty to try and encourage a calm, co-parenting approach to decision making on issues like vaccinations. In general, both parents want what is best for their child and they will always be encouraged to reach a mutual agreement. But if they disagree, what options are available to them? Trying mediation is a good first step but if this fails an application can be issued with the family courts.  

  • Mutual agreement

When both parents (with PR) are involved in a child’s life, generally they will consult with each other before making any important decisions about a child’s welfare and upbringing. As in any family case, if it is possible to avoid going to court it is better for everyone involved. Reaching a mutual agreement made with a view of doing the right thing by the child is always the best approach. If only one parent has PR it is possible for them to make important decisions alone – but it is recommended that they seek legal advice before doing so.

  • Mediation

If there is a dispute, both parties can meet together with a mediator (online during the restrictions) and have an amicable discussion. Of course, this is not always possible, especially where abuse has taken place. But if it is safe to do so, mediation is a sensible option, providing a neutral environment for both parents to set out their concerns, the pros and cons, and reasoning behind their opinions. In fact, a referral to mediation has to be made before a court application can be happen.

  • Going to court

When parents simply can’t agree, even after mediation, they can apply to the court. If it’s a question about whether the child should have the vaccine, an application for a Specific Issue Order will be made. The downside here is that once the court is involved the decision will be taken out of the parents’ hands and it will be left to the Judge to decide the child’s welfare. The paramount consideration of the court is always the best interests of the child. The chances are that one parent won’t like the outcome, and even a possibility that both won’t.

Prohibited Steps Order

Should a parent have a major objection and want to stop a planned vaccination going ahead, they can make an urgent request for a Prohibited Steps Order to prevent it. If that parent does not have PR, they don’t automatically have the right to issue any application and the court first has to agree to this – although this is usually dealt with in the same hearing.  

Going on historical outcomes, the courts have generally determined that vaccinations are in the child’s best interests – even when a child has objected themselves. There is only one reported case in 18 years where a court agreed that a child shouldn’t have a vaccine, and that was only one amongst several vaccinations. (Re C & F (Children) [2003] EWHC 1376 (Fam)).

Other disagreements

The same principles apply to other disagreements between separated parents; in terms of ‘specific issues’ most commonly relocation, medical treatment and choice of schools. Relocation is an emotive issue as moving a child to a different part of the country or overseas will inevitably have an impact on their relationship with the other parent. Relocation also draws in other issues; the parent opposing the application may ask what the schools are like in the proposed new city/country, and what medical facilities are available – especially relevant now for relocations overseas and the impact of Brexit.

Have you come across anything like this with any of your clients?

Want to have your say? Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more stories

Join nearly 3,000 other family practitioners - Check back daily for all the latest news, views, insights and best practice and sign up to our e-newsletter to receive our weekly round up every Thursday morning. 

You’ll receive the latest updates, analysis, and best practice straight to your inbox.