Lippitt O'Keefe - Ask a Lawyer

Vaccinations Can Contribute to Divorce Disagreements

Is there any valid reason for not vaccinating your child?

VaccinationsI was recently in Judge Karen McDonald’s courtroom, where a hearing was continuing on the issue of whether a child should be vaccinated. The former husband wanted the child vaccinated and his former wife does not. An accredited doctor was testifying as to why there is no medical reason to withhold vaccinations. There were camera crews and reporters in the courtroom and there has been a lot of controversy over this issue.

I was recently reading a magazine called The Week, which distills the news of the week both nationally and internationally. There was a short piece from Rome stating that measles cases are soaring. It stated that more than 21,000 people got measles in Europe last year, more than quadruple the number in 2016, and at least 35 people died. The World Health Organization blames the spike on parents rejecting or delaying vaccinations for their children because of the discredited but widespread belief that there is a link between childhood vaccinations and autism.

The vaccination rate for young children in Italy is 85 percent.

The World Health Organization stated that 95 percent should be immunized to prevent outbreaks. Measles is highly contagious and can cause blindness, encephalitis and death.

In Michigan, under the best interests of the child statute where there is joint legal custody, there must be an agreement on issues such as health-related issues or else the parties must go to court.

What I am observing is a tremendous waste of time and money over an issue that has been medically resolved for years. Vaccinations have eradicated many terrible diseases here in the United States, including mumps, measles, and polio, as well as small pox. There are vaccines for chicken pox and even pneumonia.

A parent may argue that his or her child should not be vaccinated for medical or religious reasons, but this fails to take into account the fact that if more and more people are not vaccinated, then the protection for our society as a whole will start falling apart and the gains in medicine to immunize and protect our children will be lost. Every competent physician I have spoken to has unequivocally stated that vaccinations are critical and are safe!

What are some solutions?

I have had some cases where a judge would award joint physical custody to one parent and sole legal custody to the other. There can even be rulings by a court to have some decisions made by one parent and others by the other parent. For example, the final say on medical issues could be with one parent, while the final say on school-related issues could be with the other.

This is something that can be negotiated by the parties and their attorneys or it could even be ordered by the court.

The end result would be to end the disputes that can go on endlessly in court.

In one of my cases, the mother who is a physician was granted sole legal custody and then had the ability to make all decisions based upon the best interests of the child of the marriage.

We are going through an era where people are more and more contentious and will use the courts to take out their anger over almost every issue, even long after the divorce is final. Emotional problems, a failure to move on to the next chapter of life, as well as anger and bitterness — all contribute to what I call the never-ending divorce. In these cases, such as the one playing out over vaccinations, one or both parents are unable to move on and will put their child or children in the middle of this mess.

These are some of my thoughts on this issue. Please share yours.