Covid-19 Vaccinations for Kids Spark Battles Between Divorced Parents

Many types of coronavirus vaccination battles are raging in courts and at the top of governments. They are also increasingly flaring up in custody battles between divorced parents.

Don Figer was taken to court late last year by his ex-wife because he refused to grant her permission to vaccinate their 11-year-old child. Mr. Figer, who is vaccinated, said he feels that drugmakers have not fully tested the vaccines on children, and that it was unclear to him whether the risk of getting the shot outweighed the risk of Covid-19 for his child.

“The potential downside of waiting, given the severity of Covid for children, is small,” said Mr. Figer, a professor in the college of science at the Rochester Institute of Technology in upstate New York. “I wanted to wait and see this experiment play out on other people’s children, not on my child.”

Mr. Figer’s situation has come up with many divorced parents after the Food and Drug Administration approved vaccinations for minors last year, according to court filings and lawyers. As disagreements over the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines and resistance to government mandates increase in general, they have been creating rifts between separated parents, said lawyers involved in several of the cases.


Photo Illustration:

ELENA SCOTTI / THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, GETTY IMAGES; ALAMY

In New York City, a woman sued her ex-husband in December to change their custody agreement and allow her to vaccinate the children after he refused to do so.

“Vaccines up until Covid haven’t really been an issue,” said Margaret Brady, the lawyer for the mother in the case. She said custody agreements in the city usually outline what sorts of procedures parents need to follow before making major medical decisions for their children, such as getting surgery or putting them in therapy.

In the December case, the father had refused to follow a prior agreement to abide by New York state and New York City guidelines.

Judge Jeffrey Sunshine of the Supreme Court of the State of New York scheduled a hearing to question the parents, but the separated couple settled out of court when the father agreed to have the children vaccinated, Ms. Brady said.

Kiilu Davis, a family-law attorney based in Scottsdale, Ariz., Said he is involved in three cases before the court that involve parental disagreements about the vaccine.

Margaret Brady, the lawyer for a mother in a New York City case, said vaccines have not historically been an issue in custody agreements.


Photo:

David Morgan

In most cases, US courts have followed the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommend that everyone over the age of 5 gets vaccinatedhe said.

“Most courts do not like to get involved in raising a child,” Mr. Davis said. “But the courts are falling in line with getting the children vaccinations.”

Courts in countries outside the US have also been wrestling with the problem.

In Canada, judges in some cases have penalized antivaccination parents by imposing gag orders that limit them from speaking about vaccination with their children and by restricting visitation rights. In one case in the province of Ontario, Justice Francine Van Melle ruled that a father who opposed vaccinations could no longer tell or show his child anything suggesting that the vaccines were untested, unsafe, ineffective or that they put the child at risk.

The case was brought after the mother grew frustrated because the father would not give permission to have their child vaccinated and sued to force the issue.

“There have always been parents who disagree on the regular vaccines for children, but that was not too common,” Taryn Simionati, the lawyer who represented the mother, said in an email. “Parents disagree more about the COVID-19 vaccination for children.”

In the US, medical rights over children are usually outlined in separation agreements, said Kimberly Anderson, a family-law attorney based in Chicago. If parents with shared rights can not agree, they usually end up in court.

Toronto hosted a superhero-themed vaccination event in December. Covid-19 vaccines are available for children 5 and above in Canada.


Photo:

Zou Zheng / Zuma Press

Some parents have taken drastic measures to stop their children from getting the vaccines, which are available for children age 5 and up in the US and Canada.

Pfizer Inc.

and partner

BioNTech SE

are currently seeking approval from the US Food and Drug Administration for shots for children as young as six months.

In Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police issued a warrant in January for Michael Gordon Jackson. Mr. Jackson, who is divorced and shared custody of his 7-year-old daughter, has said in an online interview that he has not returned his daughter because he did not want her mother to get their child vaccinated against Covid-19.

Mr. Jackson, from the province of Saskatchewan, kept the child after she visited him in early November, police said. Mr. Jackson went into hiding with his daughter, and he has since been charged by the RCMP with abducting her in contravention of a custody order.

“Everyday I pray someday you’ll be home,” the child’s mother, Mariecar Jackson, said to her daughter in a plea that was broadcast on local television.

In January, Mr. Jackson appeared in an interview on an online talk show in which he admitted he had kept his daughter without permission.

Wearing a black hat and sunglasses, Mr. Jackson told the host, Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson, that he wanted to do everything he could to keep his ex-wife from getting his daughter vaccinated. “I had to protect my daughter from it,” said Mr. Jackson, referring to the vaccines.

Mr. Jackson could not be located to seek comment.

In Mr. Figer’s case, a New York state court ruled against him. Judge Richard Dollinger, of the Supreme Court in Monroe County, ruled that Mr. Figer’s ex-wife had the right to get their daughter vaccinated as soon as possible.

“The court determines that the father’s objections, while sufficient to raise some substantive concerns, are not sufficient to deter this court from concluding that the best interests of the child require the issuance of an order that the child be vaccinated as soon as possible,” Judge Dollinger said in his decision.

Write to Vipal Monga at vipal.monga@wsj.com

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