The month of August is known as National Immunization Awareness Month. Children will be preparing to go back to school and although by now its likely decisions regarding which schools your children will attend have already been made, there are other decisions which still need to be made, many of which can be complicated when parents are divorced or divorcing.
When parents are divorced, or are divorcing, there is an allocation of responsibility for parenting decisions. One of those decisions includes medical decisions for your children, and when pertaining to school, includes physicals, eye exams, dental exams, and vaccinations. Over the past few years, the issues of vaccinations and their potential side effects in particular have been subject to some debate, especially with the influence of celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy. To highlight some of the problems that can arise regarding this responsibility, let’s take a look at the topic of vaccinations.
While the Illinois appellate court has not yet addressed the issue of decision making regarding vaccines between divorced parents, the Michigan Court of Appeals recently addressed this issue in an unreported opinion in the case of Kagen v. Kagen. 1. Although its precedential value may be limited, the reasoning in the case is illustrative of how a court may address the dispute. The case also underscores the importance of the need for parents to work together when it comes to the medical care of their children as the results can be unpredictable when parents let the court decide the best course of medical care for their children.
The parties in Kagen were divorced in 2012. Sometime after the divorce the father learned the mother had discontinued vaccinating the children without his consent, knowledge, or permission. When asked, the mother claimed that she had stopped vaccinating on the grounds that they were against her religious beliefs, the vaccines contain poisonous ingredients, and the father previously agreed not to vaccinate the children. In response, the father indicated that to the extent there was a prior agreement, he has since changed his mind based on reports from the government regarding the benefits of vaccinations. This dispute led to litigation starting in 2013 between the parties over whether or not to vaccinate their children. After a trial, an appeal, a remand back to the trial court for further hearing, and a second appeal, an opinion was delivered on July 14, 2015 – more than two years after the start of the litigation.
Ultimately, the appellate court found that based on the evidence presented at the trial court, updating the children to standard vaccinations would be in their best interests. In reaching this decision, the court primarily relied on the recommendations of the children’s pediatrician about whether or not to administer vaccines and which ones to administer, as well as information from the CDC and FDA regarding the benefits of vaccinations.
The Kagen case illustrates one area of dispute which can arise over a common medical treatment many children receive around the time the new school year starts. There are obviously other areas that can be subject to dispute when it comes to medical care for your children – including additional things typically sought at the beginning of the school year such as physicals, eye exams and dental exams.
With summer coming to an end and especially with August being National Immunization Awareness Month, this is a perfect time for you and your divorced (or soon to be divorced) spouse to have a discussion on all the upcoming medical decisions. Whether you are divorced or divorcing you need to take steps to preserve your decision making regarding the medical care of your children and insure that you and the other parent are on the same page with respect to the same. If you are not, reach out to an attorney to help you navigate the system and advocate for your position.
1. Kagen v. Kagen, 2014 WL7217819 (December 18, 2014); and Kagen v. Kagen, 2015 WL 4254993 (July 14, 2015).