Updated 14 September 2021
Following a pivotal clinical trial earlier this year, the Pfizer vaccine gained European regulatory approval for use on children aged 12 to 15. The chief medical officers of all four nations have now recommended extending it in a one job form to those children 12 – 15yrs of age.
Although the news is largely positive, from a family perspective, a spike in parental disputes is likely.
As family lawyers, at the beginning of the pandemic we saw a significant number of cases relating to children disputes, where COVID was a real obstacle for separated parents who were sharing care of children. For example, if one parent was living with their elderly parents, there would inevitably be worry about a child moving between households and transmitting the virus. Or a child would maybe have symptoms, meaning the self-isolation period would prevent them from seeing the other parent.
With the vaccine roll-out for children now added into the mix, there’s likely to be an influx of disputes between parents who cannot agree on whether to vaccinate their children or not.
Disagreements too between separated families about holiday arrangements are also set to increase as international travel begins to open up.
However, with the right approach, most of these issues can be dealt with so that there is a mutually agreed resolution.
Do I need to vaccinate my child to travel?
Issues around vaccinating children aren’t new but, with a vaccine being a prerequisite for travel at the moment for adults, it’s more likely to become a hotly debated topic.
What if my ex and I can’t agree on whether to vaccinate our child?
If the parents can’t agree, then one of them can make an application to the court for a Specific Issue order, so the court will have the final say. This is sometimes unpalatable, given that effectively a decision about one’s own child is given to the state to make.
There is, however, specific case law in this area, which the courts adopt for guidance. In the case of M V H (Children represented by their Children’s guardian)  EWFC 93, the judgment of the case makes it clear that in instances where parents disagree on vaccinating their children, the court is likely to view that the vaccination is in the child’s best interest and make an order in favour of the child receiving the vaccine, if it is approved for children/on the NHS vaccination schedule.
It was also noted in the non-legally binding comments from the judge that if the COVID vaccine is approved for use in children (which it now has), then the court is likely to view it as being in the child’s best interest also.
Do I have to let my child go abroad with my ex-partner if I don’t want to?
Issues around holiday arrangements are rising. If one parent wants to consider a holiday abroad, the other parent may be reticent about the child having COVID tests.
If one parent has a child arrangements order stating that the child lives with them then they can take that child abroad for up to 28 days without requiring permission from the other parent (this is of course unless the court says otherwise).
However, if both parents have parental responsibility, then both must give their consent before a child goes on holiday.
If the other parent does not give their express permission, then an application will need to be made to the court for an order for leave to remove the child from the jurisdiction.
How can we reach an agreement?
Early communication is always the best first option, but reaching an agreement isn’t always easy. With the right approach, most of these issues can be dealt with so that there is a mutually agreed resolution and without involving the courts.
Seeking professional advice can be helpful too, or consider using alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation to allow both parents to have their say in a controlled environment. The very last resort is court action.
As life continues to slowly move back to normal, being vaccinated is a requirement to do some ‘normal’ things, such as travel, so we may see more of these disputes arise.
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