Anti-vaccination beliefs vs. a child’s best interests

On Behalf of | Nov 4, 2017 | Child Custody, Divorce |

When planning for divorce, many people expect their interactions with their ex-spouse to become easier. Once you no longer cohabitate, the differences will be minimized. While divorce can reduce that stress on a personal level, parents still need to work together for the best interests of their children. Sometimes determining what, exactly, best interests means is a challenge.

There are many co-parenting arrangements in New York. In most, one parent has physical custody and the two parents split time with the children. While one parent may get more time than the other, both tend to have decision-making capabilities–and this can lead to conflict.

An anti-vaccination example

Parents disagree on a number of issues. Day to day issues can be resolved, but sometimes a philosophical or religious concern can be more difficult. For example, when a mother is anti-vaccination but the father endorses their use. This case is taking place right now in the Detroit area. Because vaccinations are health-related, the court ordered a mother to comply with her children receiving shots. When she refused, she was arrested for contempt of court and the father had the children get their shots. The mother is arguing that vaccinations defy her religious beliefs.

While this example takes place in Michigan, many New Yorkers are anti-vaccination as well. The court acknowledges parental differences when it comes to religion, but with a delicate approach that always considers the broad concept of best interests of the child. Because vaccines are proven to prevent illness with limited side effects, the mother’s refusal to comply threatens the best interests of her child.

Best interests in New York

Best interests of the child is an open-ended phrase which leads to confusion between co-parents. Rather than following a strict definition, the court’s best interests ruling is based on several criteria that consider parental ability, living arrangements, personal history and opportunity for the children.

According to the New York City Bar, some of the primary factors that influence bests interests are:

  • Stability
  • Child care arrangements
  • Mental health
  • Substance abuse history
  • History of physical abuse or neglect
  • Living conditions
  • Finances

When the family court determines a child’s best interests, it will rule based on these criteria, along with observations of the parents based on the divorce and custody hearings. In the anti-vaccination case, the judge ruled that shots were necessary for the child’s well being because vaccinations are a proven, essential health care issue.

Minimizing conflict after the divorce

The divorce may resolve personal disputes between spouses, but co-parenting continues long after the divorce is final. In drafting a post-divorce parenting plan, it’s best to consider all possibilities so you can minimize conflict and help your children mature in a peaceful, drama-free environment as each parent seeks a fresh start.