Custody Agreements and Covid-19 Vaccinations

All parents want nothing but the best for their kids. But, some parents, particularly those who are trying to co-parent after a divorce or separation, find it challenging to agree on what’s best for their kids. They can sometimes agree to disagree and leave it at that because the issue may not be as important for one or both of them. 

But as more and more kids are becoming eligible to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, an increasing number of parents who have joint custody agreements are battling over whether their kids should receive the vaccine. There are also disagreements between parents regarding wearing masks, whether they should change their activities and avoid going out, and other Covid-19 safety issues.

The thing is, with masks and other safety measures, there are usually more opportunities for compromise and situational application. With the Covid-19 vaccine, however, it is usually all or nothing. If you’re in the same boat or are wondering how the vaccine will impact your custody order, here’s what you need to know.

What Your Child Custody Order Says

There are two types of child custody in Maryland. Physical custody orders which parent the children must live with and determine visitation or parenting time arrangements. Legal custody dictates the obligation and right to make vital decisions about the children’s lives. Common issues include medical care, education, religious upbringing, discipline, and other vital matters that impact the children’s welfare.

In most cases, not all, legal custody is split 50/50 between parents. This means that parents have an equal and mutual right to make decisions that will be in the children’s best interests. So while you may have physical custody of your children and you are the primary caregiver, you are not allowed to make the decision to have your children vaccinated unless you have primary legal custody.

In addition, parents with physical custody have the right to make emergency medical decisions, but huge and sensitive issues like vaccinations must be discussed by both parents.

What The Courts Say

Family courts and judges do not really want to make decisions regarding child custody issues unless they really need to. Currently, in Maryland, minors need parental consent for getting a Covid vaccine. Courts will not order children to get vaccinated but may assign which parent can decide, under certain circumstances. Courts also advise parents to look at the CDC’s Covid-19 guidelines and try to comply with the mandates since those are considered to be in everyone’s best interests.

It’s also vital to note that courts can choose to modify an existing custody agreement but would be wary of modifying it unless the parent that requested the modification can clearly show that the modification is in the children’s best interests. The requesting parent must likewise prove that since the last agreement, there’s been a significant change of circumstances, which makes the existing agreement ineffective.

Child custody battles are emotionally draining, contentious, and complex, so parents should ideally try to resolve their issues without involving the courts. Otherwise, it’s best to discuss your case with an experienced child custody lawyer for advice specific to your situation.

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