How to handle co-parenting disagreements on vaccinating children

The emergence of the Omicron strain of COVID-19 and the subsequent approval of the COVID-19 vaccination for children aged 5 to 11 from 10 January 2022 has seen an influx of children receiving the vaccine, especially before the start of the new school year. 

But this can be difficult to navigate for co-parents who have differing views on vaccination, and it can quickly become a point of conflict. This article explores the options available to you as a co-parent when you have differing opinions about vaccinating children. 

How to approach different opinions on vaccinations

co-parenting school holidays

When reading this article and discussing vaccination for your child, you need to remember what is important. It’s about making a decision that is best for your child in their individual circumstances, irrespective of your personal views on vaccination. This can be easy to forget, especially where there is already conflict between co-parents. 

If vaccination does become a point of contention between you and a co-parent, it’s also important to be aware of the settings where you are having discussions regarding immunisation. For example, it’s best to avoid having these discussions at changeovers where your child is present. 

Try to arrange another time when both parents are available to avoid exposing your child to any potential conflict. 

Vaccine laws in Australia and vaccine mandates by state

Vaccinations in Australia are voluntary, including the COVID-19 vaccination. However, several COVID-19 vaccine mandates in each state and territory require people to provide proof of vaccination to continue their employment in specific industries or attend some places unless they have a medical exemption. 

You can access comprehensive information about the COVID-19 vaccine mandates by state on each state or territory’s website below: 

Who can make a decision about vaccinating your child? 

When it comes to making decisions about a child, the presumption is that it is in the best interests of the child for the child’s parents to have equal shared parental responsibility for the child. 

There are some exceptions where the presumption does not apply, including where there are reasonable grounds to believe that a parent or person who lives with the parent has engaged in family violence

Equal shared parental responsibility requires that decisions about major long-term issues about the child be made jointly by the parents. This involves:

  • consulting the other person about the decision, and 
  • making a genuine effort to come to a joint decision. 

Major long-term issues include the child’s health. Coming to a joint decision with a co-parent about vaccinating your child can be difficult where you have differing views on vaccinating children.

So, the question is, how can you come to a joint decision when you don’t agree? 

What if two co-parents have differing views on vaccinations?

If you have differing views with a co-parent on vaccinating your child, a good first step could be to book an appointment with your child’s general practitioner at a time where both parents can attend. 

This would allow your child’s individual suitability for the vaccine to be assessed by the GP. It also provides an opportunity for each parent to discuss any concerns they may have regarding the vaccination. If this is something you decide to pursue, it is important to remember that you don’t need to come to a decision at the appointment. 

Attempting to come to a decision at the appointment may only fuel conflict and become a stressful experience for your child. You can simply obtain the information from the GP and make a time at a later date to discuss your views following the appointment. 

If you are unable to come to an agreement following a visit with your child’s GP, then it may be helpful to attend Family Dispute Resolution (‘FDR’). FDR is a type of mediation to assist parents in making arrangements for children following separation. It is facilitated by an accredited Family Dispute Resolution practitioner who can help you to try and reach agreement regarding vaccinations for your child. A register of accredited family dispute resolution practitioners can be found here

It is possible that co-parents may find themselves in a stalemate even after attending the child’s GP and engaging in Family Dispute Resolution. In these circumstances, it may be necessary to commence a proceeding in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia. 

The recent case of Covington v Covington (2021) FLC ¶94-014 confirmed that the Family Court of Australia has the jurisdiction to make an order providing for a child to be vaccinated irrespective of whether or not the parties consent. It is important to be aware that there are pre-action procedures required before filing an application and it can be a timely and costly process, so it is best to seek legal advice about next steps if this is something you are considering. 

Co-parenting during the COVID-19 pandemic has presented many new challenges for co-parents and it has sparked fresh discussions about vaccinating children. 

Finding it daunting to navigate discussions with a co-parent about vaccinating your child? We can assist you with your next steps. Request a callback from our friendly team via the form below.

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