Family courts navigate COVID-19 vaccine disagreements

Published: Jan. 3, 2022 at 7:13 AM CST
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Courts are having to mediate new disputes between divorced parents as the COVID-19 vaccines are approved for younger populations. They are seeing disagreements between the parents on whether shared children should get the shot.

In the case of separation or divorce, parents have to come to a custody agreement as to whether one parent gets sole custody making decisions for the children or if it is shared. This can impact issues such as non-emergency medical treatments, what school the child goes to and religion.

“If they have joint custody, it means both parents have the right to make those decisions, and that neither parent has a superior right to the other. Of course that’s where you get into it if they’re diametrically opposed to what they want to do,” said family law attorney Daniel Overbey.

“The court does not say, ‘Your child will go to this school, or your child will play this sport or not play this sport. What the court has the power to do is give that decision making power to one parent.”

Wisconsin’s First Look Family law says there are three things to take into consideration when negotiating an issue such as vaccination:

1. Separate your feelings for your ex in making the decision.

2. Stay factual in every reason you present.

3. Respect your ex’s point of view in any discussion.

Judges and lawyers try to get the parents to come to an agreement on their own as often as possible. If that doesn’t happen, they may appoint a guardian ad litem to interview all interested parties, including the parents, the child and any professionals such as the child’s pediatrician. The guardian ad litem then makes a recommendation to the court, though it’s not binding.

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