Child Vaccinations: What Happens When Divorced Parents Disagree?

Child vaccinations are a contentious issue for some parents. And the issue can become even more complicated when the parents are divorced and they disagree over the child being immunized.

Here in Michigan, the debate over child vaccinations has been in the spotlight recently in two Oakland County cases. In both matters, the mothers do not want their children vaccinated, citing religious and medical objections. Meanwhile, the fathers (ex-husbands) want their kids immunized.

Child Vaccinations In Michigan

In one of the Michigan vaccination disputes, a court referee ordered Lori Matheson to have her 2-year-old daughter immunized after Matheson would not do so. Matheson’s ex-husband, the child’s father, wants the girl vaccinated. The vaccination question, which is part of a custody dispute between the parents, is before Oakland County Circuit Judge Kathleen McDonald. A hearing is scheduled for November 14, 2017.

The other vaccination case is also part of a custody proceeding before Oakland County Circuit Judge Kathleen McDonald. In that case, Rebecca Bredow was sentenced to seven days in jail for disobeying a court order to vaccinate her son. Bredow’s ex-husband, the child’s father, wants the boy immunized. Bredow served five days of the seven-day jail sentence. At a court hearing after her release, Bredow’s custody rights were reduced.

Notably, in 2015, the Michigan Court of Appeals held in Kagen v Kagen that, based on the evidence presented to the trial court, it was in the children’s best interests to be vaccinated. The Court of Appeals wrote:

“This record contains no support whatsoever for the circuit court’s factual finding that there exists in the medical community a ‘legitimate debate … as to the safety and necessity’ of the vaccines recommended for the Kagen children. Indeed, the evidence overwhelmingly preponderates in the opposite direction. We therefore reverse the circuit court’s order denying Mr. Kagen’s motion to update the children’s vaccinations.”

Judge Will Make Vaccination Decision If Parents Can’t Agree

Most of the controversy over child vaccinations lies in the fact that some people believe vaccinations may lead to autism. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Institute of Medicine both assert there is no connection between vaccines and autism in children.

According to Peter Jacobson, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, vaccinations can be a divisive issue for parents, often because the Internet is full of inaccurate reports that stoke parental fears. “If you have one parent spending his or her time on the web, or hearing more from the vaccine skeptics’ faction, it’s not surprising that people might be more afraid,” Jacobson told The Detroit News.

Because vaccination is a personal choice, most trial court judges do not want to decide whether a child should be immunized. But when the issue does come before the court, a judge must first look to who has authority to make medical decisions for the child and must do what is in the best interest of the child.

In this video, Lansing family law attorney Jackie Dupler explains what happens when divorced parents disagree about whether to have their child vaccinated.

Child Vaccinations: Online Resources

Looking for more information on child vaccinations? Here are links to some helpful resources.

  • National Vaccine Information Center
  • U.S. Food & Drug Administration
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

No matter what your position on child vaccinations, it is important to understand your legal rights and how they may affect the best interests of your child in a custody matter. If you have questions or concerns, contact our Michigan family law attorneys today for a free initial consultation.

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