Vaccinations and Immunizations: When Parents Cannot Decide

Nearly all parents figure out together how to address their child’s medical needs especially when involving vaccinations. It is uncommon for parents to disagree on the topic of vaccinating their children. Judges are rarely involved with deciding if and when a child ought to be vaccinated. The Covid-19 immunization is polarizing for some. It brings to the forefront the issue of Minnesota law says must be done if parents cannot agree on the health care decision of whether or not to vaccinate and immunize. Children 16 years old and older in Minnesota are now eligible to receive the Covid-19 immunization as of March 30, 2021. Children even younger may also be eligible for the shot.

Legal custody addresses who is to make medical, education, and religious decisions for children. If one parent has sole legal custody, then that sole custodian has the responsibility for deciding what, if any, immunizations and vaccinations a child receives. In situations where both parents have a court Order giving them joint legal custody and they cannot decide, a Motion must be filed in court so a court hearing can be scheduled for a judge to issue a ruling on what is going to happen for the child. Parents can wait two to three months, if not longer, for the Motion hearing to take place. Then Minnesota law gives judges up to 90 days to issue a ruling making litigation a very long process.  

Judges are given broad discretion to decide issues like this. They do so by determining what is in the best interests of a child and evaluating and considering all relevant factors in Minnesota Statute §518.17, subd. 1(a). Those factors can include:

  • if a child has health issues that could be improved or aggravated by a vaccine
  • the parent’s religious and spiritual beliefs
  • the child’s religious and spiritual beliefs, if of a reasonable age and maturity level
  • a medical provider’s professional opinion
  • other probable risks to the child or siblings.

The parents must comply with what the judge orders unless one of them wants to appeal the decision to the Minnesota Court of Appeals which is a very lengthy process which could be an issue in itself if the child or siblings has a time sensitive medical issue.

It goes without saying parents need to make a decision whether to vaccinate or immunize their child. Filing a Motion, waiting to have a hearing and leaving the decision to a judge who must decide what is best for a child, is a last resort.

If you would like more information about a child custody or parenting time issue, fill out our consultation form or call our family law attorney, Jessica L. Sterle at (218) 722-2655 to schedule a consultation.

Jessica Sterle

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