Veronica was in her garden in New England when she got the email ping from her ex-husband in early May.
“I started to have a panic attack,” says Veronica, who is not using her last name for privacy reasons. Her ex wanted a court to decide whether their 12-year-old daughter could be vaccinated against the coronavirus. The timing was terrible. “It was the day before I had her appointment scheduled,” she says.
Divorced parents who disagree about coronavirus vaccination are taking their fights to court. The tensions have been fueled by inconsistent mask rules, misinformation and reports of more children hospitalized for covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.
A former critical care nurse, Veronica knows what a stay in an intensive care unit is like, and she worries. When they were married, she and her ex agreed about vaccines. They jumped to vaccinate their daughter against the 2009 swine flu, for example. “He and I waited in the rain for hours to get her the swine flu vaccine when she was an infant because we were so concerned,” she says.
Although Veronica has full power to make medical decisions for her daughter, her ex-husband’s challenge led to six weeks of stress and fear of expensive legal bills. At the hearing, he came armed with a prepared speech and a link to a PDF with 150 articles. Veronica countered with statements from the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a letter from their daughter’s pediatrician.
Hillary Moonay, a family lawyer in Pennsylvania, says she has seen a huge uptick in calls about the coronavirus vaccines. Her firm has argued several cases for parents. The first issue she clarifies is who has legal custody for medical decisions. “Unlike physical custody, where a lot of times you see one party having a much greater share of the physical custodial time, legal custody is generally 50-50,” Moonay says.
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