Since COVID-19 vaccines have been approved for children, parents who disagree about their child’s vaccination status have been turning to family law courts for help. Divorced parents seeking legal intervention regarding their children’s healthcare decisions is nothing new in California.
However, what is new is parents seeking a change in child custody because they disagree with their child’s other parent’s personal healthcare decisions. If you or your child’s other parent have decided not to get vaccinated against COVID-19, you might have questions about how that could impact your custody arrangement.
How Is Child Custody Determined In California?
The two types of custody in California are legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody involves making important decisions for a child, such as education, healthcare, and religious upbringing. Physical custody refers to where a child lives and how much time is spent with each parent.
Judges can use their discretion to award joint or sole custody for both legal and physical custody. For example, a judge may award joint physical custody to both parents but give sole legal custody to one parent. This means that the child would spend time with each parent, but one parent would be entitled to make education, healthcare, and other legal decisions.
In California, child custody decisions are based on the child’s best interests. Family law judges are to evaluate the child’s health, safety, and welfare when determining custody arrangements. They also consider other factors such as if there is a history of abuse, the nature and amount of contact with each parent, and any history of alcohol or drug abuse.
What Is Custody Modification?
When a California court orders child custody, each parent is required to comply with the terms of the order. If there is a significant change in circumstances, the terms of the order might need to be modified. One or both parents may ask the court to modify a child custody order in California.
If you and your child’s other parent agree to modify the current child custody terms, you must still seek court approval for the modification to be legally recognized. Courts will generally approve agreed-upon modification terms, so long as it is in the child’s best interests. If only one parent seeks a change in custody, he or she must demonstrate good reasons to modify the order.
Reasons To Modify Custody
Both joint and physical custody can be modified in California. Common reasons to change custody terms include the following:
- One parent repeatedly violates the current custody order
- A child is regularly spending more time with one parent than originally contemplated
- Substance abuse issues
- Child abuse, abandonment, or neglect
- Physical relocation
- New marriage
- A change in the child’s needs
- Increased instability at home
- A child’s health or safety is in jeopardy
- One parent cannot reasonably and effectively co-parent
Vaccination Status And Child Custody
As mentioned above, disputes about medical decisions for children are nothing new in family law matters, but medical decisions that parents make for themselves are less common. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented family law disputes involving parent vaccination status and child custody issues.
California courts have received requests for child custody modification from parents who maintain that their child’s health is at risk because the other parent is not vaccinated. As mentioned above, when making custody decisions, courts look at what is in the child’s best interests.
If a California family law judge determines that spending time with one parent puts the child’s health, safety, or welfare at risk, they may decide that it is in the child’s best interest to modify custody. This means that a court could decide to take physical custody away from an unvaccinated parent.
However, this is not to say that your custody arrangement will be impacted if you or your child’s other parent is not vaccinated, but it is possible. In the alternative, a court could decide that it is in the child’s best interests to require an unvaccinated parent to take COVID tests on a regular basis or that no change in custody terms is necessary.
Talk To A California Child Custody Attorney
It is impossible to know what a judge’s decision will be when it comes to custody modification requests and vaccination status. There are many factors to consider when determining what is in your child’s best interests, and each family law case comes with unique facts and circumstances. If you have questions about child custody and vaccination status, a child custody attorney can help.
California family law attorney Bruce A. Mandel has more than three decades of experience handling child custody cases and other family law matters. Contact him at 424-250-9130 or online for a FREE and confidential consultation. Follow his Facebook page for more California child custody and family law information.