New York Court Addresses COVID-19 Vaccinations in the Context of Joint Custody

When parents share legal custody of a child, they typically must confer with one another regarding major decisions. If they are unable to come to an agreement as to which course of action to take on an issue, they may seek a resolution from the courts. If a court finds that the relationship between co-parents has deteriorated so that a joint decision is impossible, it may modify an existing custody arrangement. For example, in a recent New York ruling, a court examined whether a mother and father’s contrary viewpoints on whether their children should receive the COVID-19 vaccine warranted a change to the order defining custody. If you are concerned about your rights with regard to legal custody of your child, it is smart to meet with a trusted New York child custody lawyer to evaluate your options.

The Factual Background of the Case

It is alleged that the husband and the wife married in 2005 and had two children during their marriage. The husband commenced a divorce action in 2016, and the parties entered into a settlement agreement that was incorporated into a judgment of divorce issued in 2018. Pursuant to the agreement, they shared legal and physical custody of their children. In April 2020, the parties entered into a consent stipulation that required them to comply with all New York guidelines related to COVID-19.

Reportedly, in December 2021, the wife filed an application for emergency relief in which she requested, inter alia, that the husband allows the children to be vaccinated or undergo weekly PCR testing and abide by all COVID-19 guidelines issued by the CDC and New York. She also requested that the court modify the settlement agreement to allow her to have final decision-making authority with respect to the children’s healthcare. The husband filed a response in opposition.

Modifications to Existing Custody Orders

In evaluating the case, the court noted that joint custody arrangements are suitable between amicable, stable parents who can conduct themselves in a civilized and mature manner. They are not appropriate, however, when co-parents antagonize one another or show that they are unable to cooperate with regard to issues that concern their children.

In the subject case, the court stated that it was clear that the parties held diverging views regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. Thus, the court was tasked with answering the question of whether the relationship between the parties had deteriorated to the extent that it was not possible for them to make a joint decision with regard to the vaccination issue. The court ultimately determined that an evidentiary hearing needed to be held to assess whether the father had complied with the agreement to abide by New York COVID-19 guidelines and whether either party demonstrated an unwillingness to communicate about the children’s best interests.

Speak to an Experienced New York Child Custody Attorney

Many co-parents disagree as to whether their children should be vaccinated against COVID-19, and in some instances, their dispute over the issue can escalate to the point that legal action is necessary. If you share custody of your child and you have questions about your rights, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible. Ksenia Rudyuk is a capable New York family law attorney with ample experience helping people navigate complicated custody issues, and if you hire her, she will advocate zealously on your behalf. You can reach Ms. Rudyuk via the form online or at 212-706-2001 to set up a conference.

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