Vaccinations, Medical Decision-Making, and Parental Rights in Florida

In recent years, one of the more hotly debated issues for many people is vaccines. Since a large portion of the people who receive vaccinations are underage children, the question of whether to vaccinate or not to vaccinate can be a contentious one if a child’s parents do not agree. Sometimes, these disagreements spill over into the legal system, as was the case recently with one family from Michigan, as reported by the Washington Post. Whether or not you can use the courts to force your ex to get your child vaccinated may depend on the specific facts of your case. As a Florida parent, if you have concerns about this or any other type of vital medical decision-making element of your child custody arrangement, it is important to contact an experienced Florida child custody attorney promptly.

Many anti-vaccination individuals believe that vaccines are of questionable effectiveness and may be the source of various ailments ranging from bowel disease to autism. Vaccine proponents believe that vaccines are safe, effective, and not only an important part of good health for the recipient but also beneficial to the community at large due to something called “herd immunity.” The recent rise in vaccine opponents, vaccination proponents argue, has led to the increased occurrence of many diseases (including the re-emergence of some nearly extinct diseases), like measles, mumps, whopping cough, scarlet fever, and polio.

Thus, do you have to vaccinate your child if you desire not to vaccinate them, or, alternatively, can you get a court order that requires your ex to get your child vaccinated even if that is against the other parent’s wishes? Like many things in the law, the answer is, “It depends.”

In that Michigan case, the mother had primary physical custody of a couple’s son, while the parents shared joint legal custody. According to the judge in the case, the mother agreed to follow a pediatrician’s guidance regarding vaccination. When the doctor recommended vaccination, and the court entered an order demanding the treatment, the mom still refused, citing her religious beliefs, according to the Post report. The judge then revoked the mother’s custody, gave custody to the father in order to carry out the vaccination, and put the mother in jail for contempt of court.

The law in Florida gives parents substantial freedom in making medical decisions for their children. In some situations, the court may carve out an exception to shared parental responsibility that gives one parent “ultimate authority” over a particular decision or set of decisions. In the past, Florida’s courts of appeals have reached differing conclusions on this issue, with one case going in favor of an anti-vaccination mother and a different court of appeal in a different case ruling in favor of a pro-vaccination father.

If, however, as part of your child custody or divorce case, you agree to a certain medical procedure or treatment for your child, it will be difficult to get out of it later unless you can give the court proof of special circumstances. An example of this was the South Florida mother who was jailed for a time in 2015 for contempt of court. In the Florida case, the parents had agreed to have their son circumcised, but, some time later, the mother changed views and became passionately opposed to circumcising her son. The mother’s continued refusal to follow court orders regarding the circumcision eventually led her to go into hiding and, when later found, to lose custody temporarily and do time in jail, as reported by the Sun-Sentinel.

The key points you should take away from both of these cases is that you should work diligently and aggressively in negotiating your custody agreement with your child’s other parent and that you should always take care to work within, rather than outside, the legal system to achieve your objectives, unless you want to risk losing custody and going to jail. Wherever you are in the process, it pays to have a knowledgeable and skilled advocate in your corner. The hardworking South Florida child custody attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have helped many families facing important custody and parental decision-making issues. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

Shared Parental Responsibility Arrangement Meant Father Couldn’t Have Ultimate Decision Making Authority in All Areas, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, March 15, 2017

South Florida Mother Faces Arrest for Blocking Son’s Circumcision in Violation of Parenting Agreement, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, March 18, 2015