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Vaccines Under Family Law

27th Jul 2021 Family Law
Although COVID-19 vaccines are now available for all adults around Australia, children under the age of 16 are not currently recommended to receive a COVID-19 vaccine until TGA and ATAGI  review evidence on the safety, quality and effectiveness  of the vaccine for children. COVID-19 aside, there are still a number of vaccinations that children are eligible for, and that can help protect your little ones from a variety of different infections such as measles, mumps, hepatitis B and diphtheria.

The Vaccination Debate

When parents of a child are in a harmonious relationship, their respective stances on child immunisation are usually aligned. Unfortunately, this is not always the case in situations involving separation and divorce. Today, we have a look at the topic of vaccines under family law and what you can do if you and your ex-partner are in disputes about the vaccination of children.

Does The Law Require Children To Be Vaccinated?

Currently, there are no laws about the compulsory vaccination of children. However, it is important to note that laws and government policies exist that require children to be vaccinated (or have a valid medical exemption) in order to access childcare and a range of government benefits. As such, separated parents may sometimes disagree on whether their children should receive non-compulsory vaccinations for conditions such as COVID-19 or the flu.

Family Law Disputes About Child Vaccination

In the absence of a Court order, parents - regardless of marital status - share equal parental responsibility for their children. In addition, the Courts normally order that separated parents have equal shared parental responsibility when it comes to matters such as healthcare, schooling and the overall well being of a child. In certain instances, parents may disagree with each other regarding child vaccinations, and this is where the Family Court or Federal Circuit Court of Australia will step in in order to resolve matters regarding vaccination where mediation has been unsuccessful.

What Does The Family Court / FCC Take Into Account?

When it comes to childhood vaccination, the Family Court must consider valid medical and scientific expert evidence that is presented in each individual case and the recommendations made about whether vaccinating or not vaccinating is in a child’s best interest. The Court will require evidence of a child’s specific health circumstances, the benefits in receiving childhood vaccinations versus not, and any medical risks that may be associated with a child being immunised.

What Orders Can The Family Court Make?

It is important to note that within the courts, there is no presumption for or against vaccination. Depending on your individual circumstances, the family court may make one of the following orders regarding child vaccination:
  1. The court may grant one parent sole parental responsibility, allowing them to make unilateral decisions about long term issues that affect a child.
  2. One parent may be granted sole responsibility in regard to medical decisions and vaccinations only.
  3. The court can prohibit a child from being vaccinated if it is satisfied that there are medical risks associated with that particular child.

In Summary

When parents disagree about whether to vaccinate a child or not, mediation is always the first step. If mediation is found to be unsuccessful, going to the Family Court and asking a judge to decide may be the only option. In general, the Court prefers not to make these types of decisions for parents, but if the parents ultimately cannot reach an agreement, the court will then proceed to make orders in accordance with a child’s best interests. If you are in dispute with a former partner regarding the vaccination of your child and are looking to find out more about your rights, call Oxford Partners at (03) 9670 7577 today.