Vaccinations and Custody: Who Makes the Decision to Vaccinate a Child?

By Marie T. Bucci, Esq.

When couples divorce in New Jersey, many parents are concerned that they will no longer have control over important decisions that impact their children. Divorcing couples should understand that pursuant to New Jersey law, there are two types of custody, legal custody, and physical custody. Legal custody affords parents the ability to make health, religion, and educational decisions for their children.  When changes occur in such areas, parents with joint legal custody will equally share in the decision-making process.  

In the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recently approved the COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 and up. This change has led to custody disputes between custodians sharing legal custody of their children. Many parents cannot agree as to when a child should be vaccinated. Unfortunately, many former spouses in New Jersey do not agree on the correct course of action when it comes to vaccination. In some cases, this may lead to one parent taking legal action against the other, such as an application to modify legal custody. If such an application is filed, the court must decide whether one parent will have the authority to make certain decisions regarding the children without the consent of the other parent. The Court may grant one parent the sole legal custody regarding the child’s vaccines, or even just the COVID-19 vaccine. Prior to making such a decision, the Court would hear testimony from each parent as to why the child should or should not be vaccinated. A key component in a Judge’s decision may be the recommendation of the child’s pediatrician.

 In an unpublished case, namely M.A. v. A.A., N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1326 (App. Div. June 30, 2021) the New Jersey Appellate Division upheld a Superior Court’s decision to award the father of the child sole authority to make decisions about vaccinations, even though the parents had joint legal custody. The Court based its decision on an analysis of the best interests of the child standard over the objections of the mother, the defendant, who argued that her right to freedom of religion outweighed the application of the standard.   

Ultimately, the Court must make its decision based on the child’s best interest. Like the decision to vaccinate one’s child, most medical decisions require careful consideration from a child’s legal custodian(s). Should you find yourself in a similar situation, call Lyons & Associates, P.C. at 908-575-9777 or contact us online. We strive to be your Lighthouse in the Storm, while affording you with guidance based on our considerable experience with matters related to child custody and modification applications. Located in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients across the State of New Jersey.