Just in case parents didn’t already have to deal with enough things when going through a separation or divorce, enter COVID-19 vaccinations and people being on either side of — to get the vaxx — or not. This is quickly becoming a top contested issue between separated and divorced parents. Who gets to decide? Will a Judge tell the parents who is right? Can a parent get their child vaccinated behind the other’s back? Can you run away with your child to protect him or her?
It was reported on Jan. 22 by Global News that a Saskatchewan father had been charged by the RCMP with abducting his 7 year old daughter and there was an active police search for them. The report indicated the father was separated from the girl’s mother and the mother was planning to have the child vaccinated against COVID-19. The father was against the vaccination. After reading the article online, I reviewed some of the comments. It was from reading the comments that the idea for this article was born. So many misconceptions! I hope to set the record straight.
A Judge’s job is to decide legal issues, not parental issues. To vaccinate your child or not, isn’t a family law legal issue. A Judge would likely say to the parents, it isn’t up to me to decide if your child gets vaccinated or not – you two best figure it out! And if you can’t, I will pick the parent who has the right to decide! Many people think a Judge can fix anything. Unfortunately, such isn’t possible or realistic. It is not uncommon for a Judge to pick one of the parents to be the ultimate decision-maker on the issue. That is only a satisfying outcome if you’re the parent picked.
You can get in trouble for breaking a Court Order regardless if you agree or disagree with the vaccination. “Protecting” your child in the face of a Court Order that provides otherwise can lead to a contempt Order or other consequences from the Court. So, in the case of the Saskatchewan father, if the mother has a Court Order giving her decision-making responsibility, then for the father to go on the run with the child will likely not be seen as “heroic” or “right” by the Court. Court Orders are to be followed unless changed by the Judge or on consent of the parties.
Sneaking behind the other parent’s back and getting your child vaccinated knowing the other parent wouldn’t agree, wouldn’t be received nicely by a Judge. In other words, the Judge would likely think that the sneaky behaviour was “kinda a big deal”. A Judge wouldn’t likely say “well it’s done now – let it go – or nothing the Court can do”. A Judge has the power to take away the right to decide if a parent abuses it by never trying to discuss with the other. Or, if a parent has majority of the parenting time, or, the children live with that parent, and that parent decides because the children live with him or her, that he or she will get the children vaccinated – end of story; a Judge could see that behaviour as an abuse of power.
Parents can get in big trouble with the law for “kidnapping” their own children. Running away to prevent a vaccination or hiding a child in order to buy time to get her vaccinated could lead to criminal charges being laid. Such behaviour could also cause a Judge to conclude that your decision to run or hide or both has harmed the child in and of itself – or that because you put your child through undue stress, anxiety and fear – you are incapable of putting your child’s needs above your own. A Judge could take some parenting time away from you or put conditions in place that restrict your “freedom” to parent your child.
These are not easy times and parenting on any given day can be a challenge. Just try to do your best while thinking of both sides and when in doubt, seek legal advice.
All for now,