As we approach the start of another school year, parents need to be aware of the state requirements for childhood vaccinations. Alabama requires children in schools and daycare facilities to have current vaccinations for a range of diseases from measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) to polio to chickenpox and more. Other vaccinations are recommended, but not required, for children of various ages.
Alabama allows exemptions for required vaccines only for medical and religious reasons – but not because a parent objects to all or specific vaccinations on moral or philosophical grounds. However, some parents have strong objections to vaccinating children. The last couple of years have only increased the combative rhetoric around vaccines.
So what happens if your co-parent doesn’t want your child to receive a non-mandatory vaccination, but you (and your pediatrician) believe they should? If you and your co-parent share legal custody and that legal custody allows you both to make medical decisions for your child, this can be a complicated issue.
Pediatricians typically won’t get in the middle
First, even if your pediatrician recommends a vaccination, they’re probably not going to give it to your child without their other parent’s authorization. Pediatricians typically don’t want to get in the middle of a parental (and potentially legal) battle. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says, “It is prudent for the physician to inquire about marital status and custody issues when relevant.”
It’s best when parents can sit down together and explain their points of view to one another. However, that’s often impossible if the relationship is strained or both parents are set in their views. The only solution may be to have a judge decide the matter for you.
If one parent is able to get a child vaccinated over the other’s objections, going to court may also be the only thing you can do. Don’t expect a judge to take custody rights away from your co-parent because they did what they believe (and medical professionals agree) is best for your child. However, judges generally frown on going behind a co-parent’s back – particularly if it involves hiding medical information like a vaccination they have a right to know about.
If you and your co-parent have a strong disagreement about vaccinations for your child, regardless of whether you’re still working out your custody agreement or the agreement you have doesn’t address it, it’s wise to seek legal advice.