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In our latest insight article, we share information on Covid 19 Vaccinations for children when parents are separated or divorced.
Custody and COVID-19 Vaccinations
Most parents who are separated or divorced will have joint decision-making authority (previously known as joint custody), through a separation agreement or court order. This means that both parents’ consent is required for medical decisions, which includes vaccinations. For most parents, the decision to vaccinate their children is an easy decision to make. However, with the introduction of the experimental COVID-19 vaccine, whether or not to vaccinate is a rapidly increasing issue in family disputes. This issue is further complicated when the child reaches an age where they can express their opinion on the issue.
Canadian courts, in considering the views of a minor when determining what is in their best interests, contemplate what is referred to as the “mature minor doctrine.” In deciding whether or not to take a child’s voice into consideration, the court considers the child’s age and their maturity. Even if the court does decide to take the views of a child into consideration, the child’s wishes are not determinative. Rather, they are simply one factor to be taken into consideration against the entire backdrop of the situation.
The issue of competing wishes amongst a child and their parent(s) on obtaining the COVID-19 vaccination was recently addressed by Mr. Justice Megaw of the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench in the decision O.M.S v E.J.S., 2021 SKQB 243. The father of a 12-year-old daughter sought an order allowing him to get his daughter vaccinated without the consent of the mother, who was opposed.
The father wanted his daughter to receive the vaccination due to his concerns regarding the COVID-19 virus, while the mother was opposed based on the daughter’s desire not to have the vaccination, the daughter’s diagnosis of vaccine toxicity, and the mother’s general opposition to vaccinations and concerns about the accuracy of COVID-19 information.
In making his decision, Mr. Justice Megaw undertook an analysis of the Divorce Act and relevant case precedents with his primary focus being on the best interests of the child. In considering the child’s wishes, Mr. Justice Megaw stated:
I cannot simply, in any event, exercising the Court’s parens patriae jurisdiction, leave the decision in this regard in the hands of a 12-year-old. She is, after all, a child. She is 12. She is entitled to expect the ongoing guidance of the adults in her life and she is not entitled on all matters to simply make a decision on her own. This is one of those situations. Her views, as suspect as they may be, do not carry the day here.
Mr. Justice Megaw, taking into consideration the global pandemic, the child’s needs, and the child’s views and preferences, determined that it was in the best interests of the child to receive the vaccination without the consent of the mother, despite the contrary desire of the child.
In a similar decision, D.P. v G.M., 2021 QCCS 3582, the Superior Court of Quebec decided in favor of a 12-year-old child receiving the COVID-19 vaccination who, unlike in O.M.S v E.J.S., 2021 SKQB 243, expressed a desire to receive the vaccination. The child’s mother asked the court to grant an order allowing her son to receive the vaccine, while the father refused as he believed the child already had antibodies and was concerned about side effects due to the child’s weight and previous allergies. The child was represented by his own lawyer and representations were made on his behalf confirming his desire to receive the vaccination.
The court, focusing on the best interests of the child, determined that it was in the child’s best interests for the vaccination to be administered without the consent of the father. When considering the child’s wishes, the court stated:
Although the child’s desire cannot be considered as decisive in the present matter (only a minor aged 14 years and may give his consent to care alone), the Court notes that the child’s wish is serious and well-reasoned.
In a decision of the Ontario Superior Court, A.C. v. L.L., 2021 ONSC 6530, the parents of 14 year old triplets agreed that their children had the capacity to make a decision on whether or not they received the COVID-19 vaccination. The court, in light of the parents’ agreement, allowed for two of the children to receive the vaccination, and one not to, based on their respective wishes.
While there have been a limited number of reported decisions addressing children and the experimental COVID-19 vaccination in the context of a separation or divorce, the courts appear to be ruling in favor of a child getting vaccinated in accordance with public health guidelines, regardless of the wishes of the child or a vaccine-hesitant parent.
If you are separated or divorced and dealing with the issue of vaccinating your children, our lawyers are ready to help. Contact our office for a free 30 minute consultation.