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November 23, 2021

COVID Vaccine—What Happens When Parents Do Not Agree?

By Tracy Newmark and Natalie Kay.

While administering vaccines to children has been a topic of contention between parents for years, these disputes are likely to become more common in our post-pandemic world.

So, what happens when parents do not agree on the decision to vaccinate their children?

Generally, if parents have legal rights (i.e., paternity has been established), are not divorced, or do not have a court-ordered parenting plan in place, either parent can give consent to vaccinate their child. If there is a parenting plan, other court order, or jurisdiction over the child regarding parenting, then the answer depends on the type of parental responsibility each parent has.

In Florida, the terms “custody” and “visitation” do not exist under the law. In Florida, we have parenting plans that detail both time-sharing, which parent spends which overnight with the child, and parental responsibility, which determines decision-making authority over decisions for the minor child such as education, healthcare, and religion.

If one parent has sole parental responsibility, then that parent can decide to vaccinate their child without consent or even consulting with the other parent.

If parents have shared parental responsibility, then the decision to vaccinate requires the consent of both parents. In Florida, shared parental responsibility is usually preferred unless it would be detrimental to the child. Decision-making can still be tricky even in cases of shared parental responsibility. The parenting plan can assign one parent with ultimate decision-making authority over a particular decision, such as healthcare.

Modifying a parenting plan is not as simple as many parents believe. Once a parenting plan has been agreed upon in writing or established by the court, it can only be officially modified by the court after a showing of a substantial, material, permanent, and unanticipated change of circumstances, and such modification must be in the best interest of the child.

Whether a dispute over the administration of a vaccine against COVID-19 is a substantial, material, permanent, and unanticipated change of circumstance, depends on the particular facts and circumstances of each individual case.

If you are not sure of what type of parental responsibility you have, the first step is to review the parenting plan. If the plan does not designate one parent as the ultimate decision-maker, resolving the issue of vaccination may require court intervention to break the deadlock between parents. If you and your co-parent cannot reach a mutual agreement, you may want to consult with an experienced family law attorney to discuss the available options best suited for your family.

At Kelley Kronenberg, we understand that matters involving your children can be frightening and stressful, especially during a global pandemic. Our experienced and compassionate family law attorneys will be there to guide and support you every step of the way.

To learn about your rights regarding the COVID vaccine for your children or for help with any of your family law matters, feel free to contact us for an initial consultation.


Contact Tracy Newmark and Natalie Kay at  (800) 975-8225 or familylaw@kklaw.com.

DISCLAIMER: This article is provided as a courtesy and is intended for the general information of the matters discussed above and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Neither Kelley Kronenberg, nor its individual attorneys or staff, are responsible for errors, omissions and/or typographical errors – always seek competent legal counsel.