When parents are awarded joint custody and joint decision-making, it is because that is in the best interests of the child. When issuing such an order, the court has also determined that the parents get along well enough to make parenting decisions jointly, despite disagreeing on some issues. When parents don’t agree and are unable to compromise, the parents often seek a custody modification from the court.
Even in cases where parents are otherwise able to make joint decisions, the issue of vaccinations has been an area of disagreement between parents, leading to litigation. In L.N. v. V.V., the court was asked to give one parent final decision-making authority since the parties were at an impasse on the issue of vaccinations.
In this case, the mother petitioner and father respondent share joint custody of their 8-year old daughter. They have had joint physical and joint legal custody since 2012 when their relationship ended. For the most part, the arrangement has worked. Here, the only change that the mother is seeking is for final decision-making authority when they cannot agree.
The child has never been vaccinated, V, now eight years old and in the third grade, has never been vaccinated. New York Public Health Law §2164 requires that, unless a medical exemption applies, children receive vaccination before that will permitted to attend school. The child does not qualify for a medical exemption. The mother has always wanted the child to receive vaccinations. The father was against it. At the time of the hearing, the child has been enrolled in public school, but not able to attend.
As always, when it comes to custody issues, the court will do what is in the best interests of the child. In making this determination in this case, the court sought to determine whether each parent has shown that their decisions would be in the best interests of the child. Furthermore, the court also sought to determine whether each parent would actively consider the other parent’s opinion.
While the court found that both parties are loving parents and show good parenting skills, they approached the other’s parenting skills differently. The mother did not challenge the father’s parenting skills or decision-making process for matters other than vaccination. On the issue of vaccination, the father was adamantly against it and was not willing to negotiate. In fact, the father coached the daughter to object to vaccinations. The father’s position against vaccinations is based on his Buddhist beliefs. The court subtly questioned the sincerity of the father’s Buddhist beliefs since he did not appear to otherwise follow a Buddhist lifestyle and the child was not being raised in Buddhism.
The father’s conduct and attitude toward vaccinations raised questions as to whether the father would do what is in the best interests of the child. While he claimed he objected to vaccinations due to religious beliefs, it appears that the real reasons are medical. However, he could articulate medical reasons not to vaccinate, even though he testified that he had done extensive research.
Based on the testimony of the parents and other evidence, the court found that it would be I the best interests of the child to for the mother to have final decision-making authority after meaningfully conferring with the father on all issues related to the daughter’s health, religion, education, and general welfare.
The court’s decision had nothing to with a judgement on the efficacy of vaccinations. It had everything to do with which parent showed a willingness to do what is in the best interests of the child and which parent should a willingness to support the other parent’s efforts to parent the child.