Posted August 13, 2021
In general, the term custody refers to the authority and responsibility to care for and maintain a child as well as control a child’s upbringing. In New Jersey, custody is broken down into two components, legal custody and physical custody.
Physical custody means the physical care and supervision of a child. This includes attending to a child’s daily needs and making “minor” day-to-day decisions while a child is in that parent’s care. Conversely, legal custody refers to “major” decision making involving a child’s health, education, safety, and welfare.
In most cases that come before the Superior Court of New Jersey, parents are awarded joint-legal custody. This requires both parents to consult and communicate on significant decisions that arise involving their children. The decision to have a child vaccinated certainly qualifies as a major health decision, therefore, both parents are required to confer to reach a mutually agreeable decision whether to vaccinate an eligible child.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has now stated, “[v]accines are widely accessible in the United States. Everyone aged 12 years and older should get a COVID-19 vaccination as soon as possible.”
The State of New Jersey has followed suit and issued a COVID-19 Vaccine Frequently Asked Questions press release which outlined the recommendation that children over the age of 12 should receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and the reasons why children should be vaccinated.
As the school year is fast approaching, the number of children infected with COVID-19 continues to steadily rise. In situations where parents disagree on whether their child should receive a vaccine to protect against COVID-19, the decision will ultimately be left to the Court.
The Court must look at each case individually with a child’s best interest in mind. This issue has become highly politicized, and the reasons people choose either to receive the vaccine, or to forego a vaccination, are deeply personal and differ from person to person. The Court will look at the totality of the circumstances in making a determination as to whether it is in a child’s best interest to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. Depending on the child’s age, it is possible that the Judge will also issue an order for an interview of the child.
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