Can You Get in Trouble for Not Vaccinating Your Child?
Parents enjoy the right to raise a family according to their individual beliefs and standards. However, when parents hold certain beliefs that have the potential to endanger a child's health and safety, it can potentially impact future child custody determinations. This blog discusses the potential family law consequences of subscribing to the claims and ideas of the anti-vaccination movement.
Consequences of Not Vaccinating
Under Florida law, courts are required to determine issues relevant to child custody based on several statutory factors.
Section 61.13, subsection (3) of Florida's statutes lists 22 factors that courts are required to evaluate when making child custody determinations. One of the factors includes "the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to determine, consider, and act upon the needs of the child as opposed to the needs or desires of the parent."
An argument can be made that a parent's decision not to vaccinate their children is made out of a sincere belief that they are preserving the health and safety of their children. In 2012 and 2013, there reports of outbreaks for measles and whooping cough - illness that were considered effectively eliminated thanks to vaccinations. These unusual out breaks were attributed to the anti-vaccination movement.
The anti-vaccination movement espoused claims that vaccinations presented a net-harm to children. Supporters of the anti-vaccination movement often point out that vaccines contain dangerous chemicals such as formaldehyde and mercury. Other anti-vaccination supporters also argued that there was a causal connection between the MMR vaccine and autism.
However, the scientific and medical community largely discredited the motivations of the anti-vaccination movement as unsupported by scientific evidence. They point out the anti-vaccination movement undermines the "heard immunity."
Heard immunity is a phenomenon whereby individuals who haven't developed immunity to a particular disease is nevertheless protected from infection if the majority of individuals in the surrounding region have acquired an immunity to that disease. Heard immunity is particularly important given the advent of fast, international travel. That is because some countries may not utilize vaccines for certain diseases and can carry them across national borders.
When courts are determining issues that require an investigation into the facts and circumstances relevant to the best interests of a child, the judge will likely give significant deference to the consensus of the medical and scientific community. As a result, parents who insist that vaccinations are more harmful than beneficial are likely to encounter significant judicial resistance in child custody determinations. In custody cases where one parent subscribes to anti-vaccination ideas and the other doesn't, a court will likely consider this particular issue in favor of the parent who favors vaccinations.
Benefits of Vaccinations
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the benefits of vaccinations outweigh any scientifically recognized risks.
Benefits of vaccination include:
- Immunity to Life-Threatening Diseases. Measles, whopping cough, chicken pox, and polio were diseases that historically threatened the lives of young children. Immunity has mostly eradicated the risks presented by these diseases.
- Financial Savings. Vaccine-preventable diseases can cause disabling health conditions that are expensive to treat once infected. Vaccinations during childhood would spare families the cost of treating such diseases if a child develops an infection later in their life.
- Educational Opportunities. Children with a disease that could have been prevented by a vaccine can be denied admission and attendance to schools. Many schools require up-to-date vaccinations for their students.
Call to Learn More About the Legal Consequences of Not Vaccinating
Under ideal situations, children greatly benefit from having the wisdom of their parents. Unfortunately, family law issues like divorce can make such an arrangement difficult. If you are facing child custody issues, you should get the advice of an Altamonte Springs family law attorney with experience in child custody matters. At the Law Office of Russell S. Hershkowitz, our legal team will compassionately advocate for you and your child's best interests. Led by Attorney Hershkowitz, our clients benefit from over 35 years of legal experience, and so can you.
Call our office at (407) 753-4111 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation to discover the legal rights and merits that your case implicates.