Parenting Agreements, Florida’s Law Regarding Parental Decision-Making, and COVID-19 Vaccinations for Minors

Back on May 10, the FDA opened the door to 12-to-15-year-olds receiving the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19. Many parents greeted this news with profound joy, while others were highly skeptical. One poll showed that 43% of parents surveyed were in favor of their 12-to-15-year-old getting vaccinated as soon as possible, while another 29% were opposed to having their 12-to-15-year-old child receive a COVID-19 vaccine. This is the sort of split that can – and many family law attorneys believe will – lead to litigation. As with any potential dispute like this, the welfare of your child is what’s paramount. So, if protecting that means legal action, make sure you have representation from an experienced South Florida family law attorney.

Several news sources, including MarketWatch, have reported that family lawyers and other experts expect a surge of disputes over kids and COVID-19 vaccinations. As one attorney put it, some parents “are going to fight over their children, given the opportunity, and make any kind of power play that they can.”

In the past, some courts outside Florida have taken up vaccine-related issues. Courts in Texas, Colorado, and North Carolina have all sided with the parent who desired the child’s immunization. A court in Pennsylvania modified custody from shared legal custody (with primary physical custody to the mother) to sole custody to the father because the mother had repeatedly flouted a court order allowing the father to get the children vaccinated.

In 2017, the Washington Post reported on a Michigan mom who spent a week in jail and temporarily lost custody of her child because she refused to get her 9-year-old son immunized. Like the Pennsylvania case, there was a court order in place the mother had intentionally failed to comply with it.

What a Florida case about a different medical issue may tell us

Here in Florida, recent rulings on a different but somewhat similar topic may provide some relevant insight into how the courts could handle such a dispute. One of the key things that established Florida court rulings make clear is that, if you’ve freely entered into a parenting agreement — such as an agreement assenting to your child’s undergoing a medical procedure — the courts likely are going to expect you to perform as promised.

In Palm Beach County, H.H. and D.N. worked out an agreed parenting plan in 2011 for their one-year-old son, which called for the father to get the son circumcised. However, after signing that agreement, the mother was ”educated” by “friends” regarding the procedure and came to oppose it. The mother litigated in the trial court, but lost, as that court ruled that the mother’s change of views was not enough to invalidate the agreement. She appealed to the Court of Appeal but lost. The Supreme Court refused to hear her case.

Instead of complying, the mother took the child and went into hiding. The mother was eventually found and relented in allowing the procedure, but only after spending a week in jail for contempt.

So, there’s a lot we don’t know yet, but what do we know for sure? We know that Florida courts typically are going to favor enforcing a parenting agreement that was freely and knowingly entered into by both parties (absent special circumstances.) That means you should proceed with caution and thoughtfulness before you sign an agreement on parental responsibility, as the courts will likely hold you to those terms absent proof of fraud, coercion, or duress.

We also know that intentionally flouting court orders is almost never a good idea. It will almost certainly not help your position in your immediate litigation, it may be seen by the courts as reflecting poorly on your judgment and fitness (and therefore open the door to a reduction of your timesharing,) and may even land you in jail for contempt.

The wellness of one’s children is probably one of the most passionate and personal issues for any parent. If you find yourself needing the aid of the legal system to protect your child’s health or welfare, reach out to the experienced child custody attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Our team is experienced in helping parents just like you and is ready to get to work on your case. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation today.