It’s time for your child’s first needle, shots, jabs – the standard recommended vaccinations and immunisations for newborns, such as diphtheria, whooping cough, polio, and tetanus and young infants – measles, mumps and rubella.
Initially, you assumed you and your partner had obviously taken these vaccinations as children, and that your child would also, naturally, be vaccinated. But as it turns out, since the topic of standard childhood vaccination never came up in your throes of love as a couple, you are shocked to find that your partner has apparently always had completely different views on vaccinations, and particularly, that of your child.
Okay, rough spot. Now what?
Whilst this scenario may not have been particularly prevalent before, COVID-19 and the widespread online information and constant news for COVID-19 vaccinations, have sparked many a furious debate amongst friends, family members, and lovers.
Some people may even have parted ways following disagreements in relation to the COVID-19 vaccine and vaccines in general.
But perhaps all this contention can be a force for good, simply because discussions about vaccination have finally stepped into the limelight.
The legal position on vaccinating children:
Medical decisions about a child, such as whether they should be vaccinated or immunised, fall under parental responsibility. It is presumed under the Family Law Act 1975 that parents have joint or shared parental responsibility. So both you and your partner have equal power and say on decisions about your children.
That is all well and good, but in the case that one of you wants your children vaccinated and the other doesn’t, what then?
Well, save for urgent life-threatening scenarios (such as if there was an outbreak of whooping cough in your local area and your 6 month old baby had not yet received any vaccination), your first step should be to participate in Family Dispute Resolution where a mediator can try to assist you on reaching an agreement.
We have tried counselling and mediation, but still do not agree:
An application can be made to the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia seeking an order for sole parental responsibility in relation to the children’s immunisations and vaccinations. However, do keep in mind that court proceedings are typically lengthy and costly, and it can be very stressful having strangers discussing intimate aspects of your personal life, judging your personal views and experiences along the way.
How the court approaches these types of cases:
In a recent case, Makinen & Taube FCCA 1878, the parties agreed about all arrangements for their children after separation, except for the issue of vaccination. The court heard both parties in relation to the children then aged 8 and 12.
During the hearing, the father acknowledged that the children’s mother had unilaterally decided not to vaccinate their children during the relationship. They had not received any of the usual vaccinations recommended for infants and children. During the children’s infancy the father did not push the issue. He agreed despite not really agreeing with the mother’s decision.
The court made final Orders giving the father sole parental responsibility to deciding whether the children ought to be vaccinated, after consulting with a doctor and obtaining written recommendations, to which the mother had 7 days to provide a one page document with relevant medical history and her concerns, prior to the father ultimately receiving any updated recommendations and deciding whether the children should be vaccinated.
The court took issue with how much weight should be afforded to the literature the mother submitted into evidence with her affidavit from her studies of medical literature and research.
Prevention is better than cure:
You never really know everything about a person until a situation comes up. To save disagreement down the track, if you are pregnant (congratulations!), trying to have a child, or thinking of having a child, we recommend you discuss all the major decisions you will have to make together, such as vaccinations.
If there is disagreement about these topics, it would be better for you, your partner and your future child to seek medical advice and attempt to reach an agreement between yourselves, rather than ending up in court, being judged by a stranger who may ultimately end up making that decision for you.
*Disclaimer: This is intended as general information only and not to be construed as legal advice. The above information is subject to changes over time. You should always seek professional advice before taking any course of action.*
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