Vaccinations and Child Custody

As of today, there is no federal law that mandates child vaccinations. Vaccination laws are dependent upon each state, although most require vaccinations in order to attend public school. These vaccinations include diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, measles and rubella, and varicella. Vaccinations are already a heated debate among parents and schools, but when parents are separated or do not live together, conflict can become even more complex.

Debate Around Whether to Vaccinate

The debate first arose in 1998 when a British scientist linked vaccinations with the development of certain types of autism, however the research was poorly conducted and the practitioner’s license revoked. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed that vaccinations are non toxic and not associated with the development of autism. The CDC urges parents to immunize their children for theirs and others safety. Regardless of its falsification, the vaccination debate has now made its way into the courtroom.

When it comes to divorce and child custody, the process is fairly easy if parents agree on vaccinations. If parents do not live together and are divorced or separated, the debate on immunizations can make the situation even more complicated. Divorced parents should come up with a parent plan that includes a decision around vaccination among other decisions about their child. If not, then it typically comes down to legal custody. Legal custody is the court’s legal ruling that allows one parent to make legal decisions for the child. If both parents have legal custody, so lies the debate once again. Parents must come to an agreement or they will find themselves back in court.


In some states there are exemptions for vaccinations. These exemptions may be on the grounds of religious belief or medical exemptions. A medical exemption is still not the same as a parent’s personal belief that vaccinations could be medically harmful. In order for a medical exemption to be valid, the parents must obtain record from a medical doctor stating why vaccinations would be harmful to the child. For a religious belief exemption to be valid, the parents must submit a statement to the school board claiming why it is against their religious beliefs to have the child immunized. After these documents have been submitted, it is still up to the school board how to proceed.

Lastly, when the final decision has to be made and parents do not agree on immunizations, there are several other things the courts may consider. First, when it comes to religious beliefs and custodial order, they are one in the same. The parent with custodial order, rather than the parent without, will have their religious beliefs honored. In addition, when custodial order is equal, but one parent is clearly more involved in the child’s medical care, the decision will usually go to that parent.

Courts will also always consider the best interest of the child, keeping in mind that they are the ones who will be at risk for contracting serious medical disease and illnesses. Child custody and vaccinations can be a lengthy legal process. For this reason you want you and your child to be supported by the best legal advice available, specifically from a family law specialist.