It has been a long two years, trying to firstly adapt to COVID-19 and then to understand the vaccinations and our stance surrounding this:

Do we have it? Do we not have it? What happens if we have it? What happens if we do not have it?

It is becoming increasingly more apparent that this has become a minefield for separated parents. What happens should one parent wish for their child(ren) to have the vaccine and the other to not?

In September 2021 the Government announced that all children in the UK without an underlying medical condition, aged between 12 and 15 years of age, would be offered one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. This followed advice from the UK’s four chief medical officers. The recommendation to parents for this age group were based on consultations with professional medical bodies and public health leaders as well as the earlier report by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) on the subject in September 2021. The JCVI’s report concluded that the margin of benefit was too small to support universal vaccination of 12-15 year olds who did not have an underlying medical condition. The Chief medical officer decided that when considering however the COVID-19 related rises in mental health issues and educational disruption there was sufficient justification for vaccinating this age group.

Children within this age group with health conditions that put them at increased risk of COVID-19, as well as those who live with someone who is immunosuppressed, had already been invited earlier in the year for the vaccination and are eligible for two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

Children with Separated Parents

This announcement has thrown some concerns to parents in difficult family situations – they may be separated, going through divorce or co-parenting. Solicitors have noticed a rise in enquiries from parents asking what their options are in the event that both parents have differing views on the issue.

Should such dispute arise and the parents seek the assistance of the Court, the starting point for the Court is to determine who has Parental Responsibility for the child and what this permits them to decide on behalf of the child. Parental Responsibility is defined in S3(1) CA 1989 as “all rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property”. The Children Act 1989 also stipulates under S2(7) CA 1989 that “where more than one person has Parental Responsibility for a child, each of them may act alone and without the other (or others) in meeting that responsibility”. In practice however, this can cause much controversy.

A Specific Issue Order

The correct procedural route remains for either parent to apply to the Court for a Specific Issue Order. A Specific Issue Order is an Order giving directions for the purpose of determining a specific issue which has arisen or which may arise in connection with any aspect of parental responsibility for the child, under section 8 of the CA 1989.  The Court will then consider the application following the Section 8 criteria and determine what is in the best interest of the child. In most instances, the Court will take into account the parental views together with the wishes and feelings of the child(ren), taking care not to attempt to strengthen any particular views of one parent over the other, but focusing specifically on what is in the child’s best interests.

Where a child wants or refuses the vaccine and it is contrary to the decision of at least one of their parents, then the issue of Gillick competence arises. Gillick competence is used in Law to determine whether a child has competence to consent.  If the child has informed their parents of the treatment they wish to receive, for example in this case the COVID 19 Vaccination, this can still proceed even if the parents are opposed on the basis the child has been assessed as Gillick competent. If the child does not have the requisite capacity then a parent with parental responsibility can consent on their behalf or seek a Specific Issue Order from the Court where neither parent can agree or make a decision regarding the vaccination.

It is important that any parent finding themselves in this situation understand that a Court will only make a decision that is in the best interest of the child – the welfare of that Child(ren) is the paramount decision of the Court at all times.

It is inevitable that where parents have a difference of opinion about whether their child should receive the vaccination or not, direct discussions can be difficult due to heightened emotions and difficulty in trying to understand each other’s views. You should consider seeking the assistance of a neutral third party early on to facilitate the discussions to try to help each parent identify their issues and areas of concerns to try to reach a resolution that is in the best interest of the child. Dependent on the parents co-parenting relationship, the neutral third party could be a counsellor, parenting coach or mediator. Ultimately, if neither parent can agree on this issue between themselves or with the assistance of a neutral third party then there may be no other option but to seek the assistance of the Court to decide what is the best for their child/children by way of Specific Issue Order.

Should you find yourself in a similar position please do not hesitate to contact our offices to speak to our trained Legal Advisors to assist you further.

Call 01522 561020 or email wecanhelp@ringroselaw.co.uk for further help and information

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