There's no question that the COVID-19 pandemic has added a slew of new issues to the
co-parenting mix. We've discussed co-parenting in Los Angeles during the COVID-19 pandemic here.
Last week, the Los Angeles Times published an article about how the family courts are weighing in on children and parents being vaccinated.
In the article, the Times reported on a child custody hearing at the Pasadena Courthouse. The parties agreed that their young son would get the COVID-19 vaccine, and the judge asked if the parents were vaccinated.
The mother said that she was vaccinated. The father said that he was not. According to the Times, the judge said “Sir, you better get vaccinated, or you could very well lose time with your child unless you have a medical reason not to.”
The judge also emphatically agreed that getting the parties' son vaccinated was the right choice.
In the context of this hearing, the Times explored many interesting issues.
First is the issue of the best interest of the child. In California, "the best interest of the child" is the cornerstone of all child custody disputes. Courts can issue orders to protect children from unsafe parents. So, the court can consider whether a parent will or will not use their best efforts to protect their child from COVID-19.
That said, the court must also balance the risk and benefit to the child. For example, is it better for a child not to spend time with an unvaccinated parent, even if it means the child cannot see a parent whom they love and are closely bonded to? Is it fair to single out one parent, when there are many ways that a child could become exposed? Is this practical or reasonable? These questions are not easy to answer.
The Times article quotes some who compare potential exposure to COVID-19 to child custody cases involving cigarette smokers. The court can consider secondhand smoke and its effect on a minor child when making custody decisions, though no reported California decision has specifically so held.
In the case at the Pasadena Courthouse, the judge gave the father a month to provide medical documentation supporting his exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine. If the father does have a legitimate health reason preventing him from getting the vaccine, the judge will have to decide how to balance the interests of the child in rendering a decision.
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