By Jordan M. Gregro

Disputes over childhood vaccinations are not uncommon.  These disputes exist between parents who are married or in a relationship as well as parents who are unmarried or separated.

If you are a divorced or separated parent, the decision to vaccinate your child may be particularly complicated and may require court intervention.  

In the context of child custody, disputes over childhood vaccinations pertain to parents’ rights to legal custody.  Legal custody is, “[t]he right to make major decisions on behalf of the child, including but not limited to, medical, religious, and educational decisions.” 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 5322(a).  Legal custody can either be shared between parents or one parent may have sole decision making authority.

If you and your former partner share legal custody and are unable to agree on whether to vaccinate your child or whether your child should receive certain vaccinations, then you may petition the court to make the determination.  In doing so, the court must determine what is in the best interests of your child, considering 16 factors enumerated in the child custody statute.  See 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 5328(a).  

At trial, the court will likely want to hear from your child’s pediatrician regarding his or her recommendation based on your child’s overall health.  In addition, the court will want to hear from each parent with regard to his or her stance on the child’s vaccinations.  The court may also consider the age of your child, as all public, private, parochial or nonpublic schools in Pennsylvania require proof of certain immunizations before attendance is permitted. See 24 P.S. § 13-1303aSee also 28 Pa. Code § 23.83.  There are certain exceptions for medical or religious exemptions. See Id. See also 28 Pa. Code § 23.84. 

It is important to seek legal advice if you are a divorced or separated parent struggling with a dispute related to your child’s immunizations.  While going to court over such disputes may be necessary, it may also be possible to avoid court and the risk of losing your decision-making power.

As an alternative to going to court, parents can agree to an alternative vaccination schedule made in conjunction with the child’s pediatrician.  If parents are able to agree, and such a schedule is acceptable to the pediatrician and to the child’s educational institution, then this can also save both parties time and money.

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The attorneys at Shemtob Draganosky Taylor, PC recognize that this is a very personal decision with potentially long-term effects.  As such, we have successfully navigated this sensitive issue for many parents both inside and outside of the courtroom. Contact our family lawyers for a confidential discussion of your family law matter.

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