The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court of Australia recently expanded the criteria for its specialised COVID-19 Court list, which determines urgent matters arising from COVID-19 circumstances. This includes issues relating to financial matters and medical issues such as parental disputes over vaccinations. You can read about that list here.
So, with the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine being rolled out across the nation, what does this mean for parents who can't agree on if their children should be vaccinated?
What happens when parents disagree on vaccinating children?
The issue of immunisation is no stranger to the Family Court, as there have been many disputes relating to disagreements between parents as to whether their children should be immunised.
The decision to vaccinate your child falls under the scope of parental responsibility and is governed by Part VII of the Family Law Act 1975. The 'best interests of the child' rules the jurisdiction as the paramount consideration in all parenting disputes.
When a court has ordered that parents have equal shared parental responsibility, it is expected that parents consult each other and come to a joint decision about any major long-term issues. If a parent were to take their child to be vaccinated against the other parent's clear wishes, they might face disapproval from the Court.
Generally, one parent's simple objection to the child being immunised will result in the Court ordering that the child be immunised. Without any evidence in the alternative, it is likely to be found to be in the child's best interests.
What about homeopathic remedies?
A belief in homeopathic remedies as alternatives to vaccines is also unlikely to hold weight in the Family Court. The Court has previously ruled that there is no reasonable scientific basis to conclude that homeopathic vaccines can be as effective as proven medical vaccines.
While both parents believe that they are acting in the best interests of the child on the whole, the best interests of the child in immunisation cases are usually only considered to the extent of their best medical interests. When faced with vaccination disputes, the Court will consider the circumstances and any relevant evidence provided.
What is in the best interest of the child?
There is no presumption for or against immunisation. However, in the past, when the issue has been in dispute, the Court has generally decided that the best interests of a child are for the child to be immunised. A court will generally rule against a child's vaccination if it is satisfied that there are medical risks associated for that particular child.
Attitudes toward the new vaccines to combat the COVID-19 virus are variable in the community, and the views of the Court in terms of these immunisations is currently untested.
Ultimately, the Family Court will make orders in the best interests of the child to resolve any disputes arising from vaccinations, including the Pfizer or other COVID-19 vaccines. Cases will be determined on the facts presented at the time.