Can You Refuse To Vaccinate Your Child During a Divorce?

Rebecca Bredow was sentenced to a week in jail after she refused a court order to vaccinate her nine year old son. Bredow and her ex-husband had initially agreed to vaccinate their nine year old son, but Bredow later decided against it. Bredow argues that the parents had initially agreed not to give their child a vaccination and that it was her husband who changed his mind, in order to obtain leverage over their custody dispute. Their son will be in the care of Mr. Bredow until Ms. Bredow is released from jail.

Michigan allows parents of public school children to waive vaccination for their child, but the parents have to attend an education seminar on the benefits of vaccination first.  Health officials are worried that if children are not vaccinated, diseases such as measles will return. The reappearance of diseases that Americans have not been exposed to in a generation would result in a devastating outbreak. On the other hand, the parents want to waive vaccination are worried that the vaccines will give their children autism. However, scientific studies have largely debunked such claims.

vaccinateAlthough the medical benefits outweigh the falsely reported disadvantages of vaccinations, Bredow was not sentenced because of her opinions on vaccines; the legal facts determined her conviction.

Avoiding Confrontation with the Judge

The default in child custody is joint custody for both parents. People often mistake “joint custody” for “50/50%,” but family law judges will discourage parents from thinking about child custody in percentages. Children are not sacks of flour to be divided between disputing parties. Joint custody is the default child custody because the law presumes that it is in the best interests of the children to have both parents in their lives, not because it is fair to the parents. However, judges can deviate from the default joint custody if joint custody stops being in the best interests of the children.

Ms. Bredow made two mistakes that led to her week long jail sentence. First, she told the judge that it was against her beliefs to give her children vaccines. In a child custody case, the beliefs of the parents are not the deciding factor. In fact, asserting a personal belief in a custody battle can be harmful, since the judge might interpret that statement to mean that the parent is more concerned about his or her personal beliefs than the well-being of the children. In a child custody case, it is always preferable to relate the case back to the best interests of the children instead of arguing about other factors. Instead of saying that vaccines are against her beliefs, Bredow should have argued that the vaccines were potentially harmful to the children.

Second, Bredow publicly stated that she would refuse to obey the court order. There are many legal ways to challenge a court order. Bredow could have appealed the order. She could have filed a motion to reconsider the matter. Or Bredow could have chosen not to stipulate to an agreement in the first place. The worst thing to do though would be to agree to certain terms and then violate the court order to enforce the agreement that the parties made.

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