Can I vaccinate my child if the other parent objects?

Unless there is a court order to the contrary, both parents of a child have equal shared parental responsibility.  This means that decisions about major long-term issues about the child should be made jointly by the parents. So, parents have a legal obligation to consult with each other about these big decisions and then make a decision jointly. Examples of major long-term issues would be choosing a school, involvement in a religion or major health issues (including vaccination).

So, what happens when parents have different views on whether a child should be vaccinated?  Coming to a joint decision will be problematic if we have one parent basing his/her view on crackpot misinformation found on the internet.  It may be impossible to come to a joint decision in such circumstances.

If you are unsure as to whether anti-vax parent’s objection is medically valid, the best idea would be for you (together with the other parent if possible) to consult the child’s GP doctor for medical advice. This should assist both parents to come to a joint decision as whether to vaccinate the child. 

If, after consulting the GP, parents are still unable to agree, the next step in the legal process would be to participate in Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) through a Government Accredited FDR practitioner. If after that FDR process, there is still a dispute, consulting a Family Lawyer and filing a Court Application in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia may be the last resort.  Going to Court is an expensive exercise, and often parents in favour of vaccination decide to make a unilateral decision to vaccinate a child.  Once a child is vaccinated, there is little the aggrieved anti-vax parent can do, except to issue a Contravention Application and/or a Court Application seeking an injunction to prevent any further vaccinations being administered to the child. 

If a court is asked to decide the question of whether a child should be vaccinated, it will consider all of the evidence presented by each side of the dispute and make a decision which is in the child’s best interests.

In the recent case of Covington v Covington (2021) decided by a Judge of the Family Court of Australia sitting in Melbourne, there was a dispute between parents as to whether their 10 year old daughter should be vaccinated as had been recommended by a Specialist Paediatrician.  The mother was opposed to any vaccinations being given to the child but did not advance any cogent argument in support of her position other than saying: no forced vaccinations can proceed as such forced vaccinations against my daughter’s consent and my consent constitute an assault and battery.

The mother had made multiple Court Applications in the Family Court, State Court and even the High Court to try to prevent her daughter being vaccinated.  She also withheld the child from the father for several days, and she admitted in open Court that she informed the child that the father is intending to have her vaccinated this week. According to text messages sent by the mother to the father, the child had become highly distressed at the prospect of being harmed by vaccination to the point that she was inconsolable, and would not stop sobbing or hugging a bucket.

The Family Court Judge found that the mother’s actions in this regard may fairly be described as deplorable. They are the very antithesis of child-focused, and they have elevated her own irrational and unscientifically based fears above the best interests of her daughter in circumstances where her daughter is now, quite properly, attending mainstream schooling and has more need for vaccinations than ever.

The decision of the Judge in this case was to put the child into the father’s care until the child had received the full course of vaccinations as recommended by the Specialist Paediatrician.  The Judge also ordered the mother to pay a proportion of the father’s legal costs in defending the case.

If you are having problems with your child’s parent in relation to important long-term decisions, make an appointment for a telephone or video-conference with one of our experienced child-focussed lawyers at Melbourne Family Lawyers to obtain legal advice and guidance as to what to do.

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