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How Legal Custody Impacts Medical Decisions for Your Children

When you get divorced or separate from your child's other parent, you will need to establish a custody agreement. There are two types of custody: physical and legal. In Florida, physical custody is referred to as time-sharing, and legal custody is referred to as parental responsibility. Physical custody or time-sharing pertains to whom the child lives with and what the visitations plans are. Legal custody refers to who is legally responsible for important decisions regarding the child's upbringing and care.

Parental responsibility matters include:

  • Religious upbringing
  • Education decisions
  • Medical and healthcare decisions
  • Legal decisions

During divorce proceedings, parents (with their lawyers and the courts) work to come to equitable custody agreements that serve the children's best interests. The courts also seek to provide parents with adequate and appropriate parenting time with their children.

Co-Parenting & Custody Matters

It is very common for parents to share in physical and legal custody. This is called joint custody. It is also common for one parent to have sole physical custody while still sharing joint custody with their child's other parent. This means that many parents will have to work together to make decisions when raising their children.

Co-parenting emphasizes teamwork and compromise between the parents. Working together like this can be difficult for parents who are still together, let alone for parents who have experienced a painful separation or divorce. Even if you and your ex are generally successful co-parents, this does not mean you will agree 100% of the time. One area in which some parents struggle to agree is when it comes to making medical decisions for their children, such as vaccination decisions. Vaccination disputes are already a hot topic, and the coming availability of COVID-19 vaccines has made things even more complicated.

Emergency Use Authorization of the COVID-19 Vaccine

Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines have received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the FDA. This means that while these two vaccines have not gone through the full FDA approval process, they have been approved for emergency use. EUAs allow the FDA to respond to public health emergencies, such as the current coronavirus pandemic.

Of particular note for parents is that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has authorization for individuals 16 years of age and older. This means that, when the vaccine becomes widely available, parents will need to decide if they want their children to be vaccinated. It is important to remember that even though these vaccines have not received full approval, the FDA has thoroughly reviewed and evaluated them and determined that "the known and potential benefits outweigh the potential risks."

For more information from the FDA on the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, click here.

To review the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine fact sheet, click here.

My Ex-Spouse Doesn't Want to Vaccinate Our Children; What Can I Do?

Vaccine disputes are not uncommon among parents, and this is especially the case with the COVID-19 vaccine. This can be particularly difficult to deal with when you share legal custody of your child/children. One parent may be excited and ready to have their teen vaccinated, while the other parent is hesitant. Despite being authorized for use by the FDA, parents have noted that their hesitancy stems from concerns surrounding side effects, whether or not the vaccine will prove effective, and how fast the vaccine has been produced. Other parents have religious objections to vaccination. No matter what the issue is, these disputes can be very difficult to resolve.

Do You Have Sole or Joint Legal Custody?

If you have sole legal custody of your child/children, you have ultimate control over whether or not they receive the COVID-19 vaccine when the time comes. With joint legal custody, the matter is more complicated. In some cases, even with joint custody, one parent will be assigned ultimate decision-making control when it comes to medical decisions. That person will then have the final say in the matter.

Your first step to resolving this issue should be to review your custody agreement and determine what type of legal custody you have. If your custody agreement does not name one parent as the ultimate decision-maker, resolving this issue may be more difficult.

How an Attorney Can Help You

If you find that you and your former spouse have reached a standstill over your teen receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, you may be feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. Parents are understandably passionate about the health and safety of their children. As the coronavirus pandemic continues, anxieties have reached new heights, making it more difficult to deal with such emotionally charged disputes. A skilled attorney can help you understand your legal options and provide you with representation both in and out of court.

Meditation May Be an Option

Many parents try to resolve their disputes outside of court. Mediation offers the potential to resolve your issue with the assistance of a neutral, third-party mediator. To prepare for mediation, you will want to collect evidence that supports your position on the vaccine. You should also try to anticipate the other parent's objections and try to understand them. Doing so will help you better counter them during mediation.

You must have a trusted lawyer represent you during mediation. Though the official mediator will take a neutral position in the dispute, you want to be sure your parental rights are being protected. Additionally, should mediation not be successful, or if mediation is not appropriate for your situation, you will need an attorney to represent you in court.

If you are struggling with a custody matter, turn to Mitchell & West, LLC. Our attorneys are highly qualified and are prepared to help with your case.