The Great Vaccination Debate: Disputes in the Family Court

The Great Vaccination Debate

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there is debate surrounding immunisations and what mandatory requirements should be put in place, once a vaccine is developed to protect against COVID-19.

We have already seen some firm stances on a potential vaccination emerge, with Novak Djokovic indicating his general opposition to a vaccination. Earlier this week, two players from the NRL Gold Coast Titans team announced their objection to what was a mandated flu shot required by them, through their employment.
Disagreement about vaccinating children, however, is not an uncommon occurrence in family law disputes. 

When parents disagree about whether to vaccinate their children, the Family Court must consider the individual facts and circumstances of each case to determine whether the vaccination should be ordered. The Family Court will exercise their discretion in considering whether to make an order which will alter a parent’s authority to make decisions relating to vaccinations.

Specifically, the Family Court may: –

  1. Make an order for one parent to have sole parental responsibility for all major-long term decisions relating to a child’s care and wellbeing (including vaccinations), or alternatively, making an order for one parent to have the responsibility for making the medical decisions (including immunisation) for the child; or
  2. specifically order one or both parents to ensure the children are vaccinated in accordance with the National Immunisation Program Schedule.

In the case of Duke-Randall & Randall [2014] FamCA 126, the Court was required to consider whether it was in the best interests for two children, aged 8 and 7 at the time of hearing, to be vaccinated. The father sought the vaccination, albeit the mother opposed same. The children had historically suffered from bouts of whooping cough, and had been refused participation in a gymnastics program given their lack of immunisations. The Father’s evidence was that he acquiesced to the Mother’s anti-vaccination position during the relationship, to avoid conflict, however, he had post separation, changed his opinion on the matter.

The Father relied upon extensive medical evidence in support of the benefit to a child of immunisation. Justice Foster noted that the Mother had not put forward any medical evidence which supported her claim to the contrary.

Justice Foster held that there was no evidence which suggested that the children would be in any way adversely affected by being vaccinated, and that it was in the best interests for them to be vaccinated. Justice Foster made orders for the children to participate in a “catch-up” vaccination program.

The Family Court has, historically, favoured the assessment that it is in the best interests of children to be vaccinated in accordance with the National Immunisation Program Schedule, unless there is a medical reason (supported by expert medical evidence) to the contrary.

For those in dispute with their former partner about the vaccination status of their child, we recommend that you seek legal advice about this issue to move through all the relevant facts and circumstances.

Please contact Kerr Fels on (08) 6381 9080 to make an appointment for specific advice about your situation.

The information in this article is of a general nature and should not be relied upon for your family law matter.

About KERR FELS – Divorce and Family Lawyers

Kerr Fels is a boutique law firm practising exclusively in family and divorce law. We offer experience in settling complex financial matters arising from separation involving business entities, trusts and large asset pools, in addition to negotiating simple divorces. We are conveniently located in the Perth CBD.

Our philosophy is to provide client-focused cost effective, efficient and pragmatic legal advice.  Don’t hesitate to contact us if you need advice about separation or divorce.

We are open Monday to Friday from 8.30am until 5.00pm. We offer the option of video conference meetings for those who are unable to attend in-person appointments.

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