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We Disagree on Vaccinating Our Child-- Now What?

Now that the school year is in full swing, some parents are finding that enrollment may include some requirements as to vaccinations. If you and your child's parent share the same opinion on vaccinations, then getting your child's shots should be (relatively!) painless. However, if you don't see eye-to-eye and exercise shared parental responsibility, the issue becomes less straight-forward.

Shared parental responsibility:

Florida Statutes 61.046 defines shared parental responsibility as a court-ordered relationship in which both parents retain full parental rights and responsibilities with respect to their child and in which both parents confer with each other so that major decisions affecting the welfare of the child will be determined jointly.

Generally, parents who exercise shared parental responsibility determine how to raise a child together, conferring on major decisions for their child's religious, educational and medical needs, with specific consideration to day-to-day activities. Parents are expected to make between themselves, without the interference of a Court. In some cases, one parent may be designated as having "ultimate decision-making authority" in a particular area for the child's well-being, such as deciding whether to pursue a particular medical treatment or procedure. In these cases, though the parents are expected to make decisions jointly, if there is a disagreement between them, the parent with ultimate-decision making authority may act on the child's behalf absent the consent of the other parent.

To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate

In most cases, parents are able to exercise shared parental responsibility without conflict. However, Parents who disagree on whether or not to vaccinate their children face a challenging situation. In recent years, vaccination has become a hotly contested issue in schools, families and government.

While vaccinations undoubtedly carry some benefits, there are those who believe that there are also risks associated with routine vaccinations that can lead to disability and even death. One of the biggest parental concerns over the administration of vaccinations stems from the theory that vaccinations play a role in the development of autism. The focus on possible side effects to vaccinations has led to many parents’ refusal to vaccinate their children.

Laws on Vaccinations

While no federal laws exist that mandate vaccinations, the laws in many states require that children entering the public school system be vaccinated against many childhood diseases. In Florida, policies may vary on a county-by-county basis, so it is important to verify with your child's pediatrician or local health department as to policy requirements. Under Florida law, certain groups may seek a religious exemption from vaccinating their child by completing certain forms and having them certified by a physician. A child can attend public and most private schools with select or no vaccines if the parent or guardian provides a valid medical or religious exemption letter to the school administrator. Private and religiously affiliated schools may or may not accept religious vaccine exemptions.

While vaccinations are administered to prevent disease and possible life-threatening complications, courts face a dilemma in deciding whether or not the potential for a deadly disease constitutes imminent danger to the child. In addition, the Courts must deem whether the parents’ rights to decide against vaccinations put other children at risk of contracting a life-threatening condition.

When You Disagree

If you find yourself in conflict with your child's parent concerning vaccination, you may need to petition the Court for assistance in resolving it. If you and the other parent both hold strong convictions on the issue, you can present your position, testimony and evidence to the Court and ask that the decision be made by the judge. You and the other parent both want the best for your child's health, but you may not be able to resolve this disagreement by yourselves. Call 904-608-3694 to speak with an experienced family law attorney on how to address this parenting problem.

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