The issue of vaccines and other forms of medical treatment can, on occasion, cause significant differences between parents. If there are disputes between parents, what happens?
Vaccinations and medical treatment
There can be strongly held views both in support of or against the use of particular vaccinations.
This has been significantly highlighted as a result of the decision to allow for vaccination of younger and younger children against Covid.
It would come as no surprise to the reader of this article to know that there are some very strongly held views, both for and against the process of vaccination.
The issue of vaccination particularly can be complicated by consideration of whether or not the “child” is themselves in a position to make a determination as to whether they would wish to have a vaccine or not and/or whether their views and opinions in this regard can be overridden by the parents.
The concept of “Gillick competency”
It is not my intention in this article to deal in great detail with the concept of “Gillick competency” but in brief, this was a case within which a question arose as to at what point a child is able to determine whether they wish to have or reject medical treatment and thereby able to make their own choice and override that of their parents.
As indicated in the phrase “Gillick competency” the primary issue that arises is whether the child has the means, capacity and is in effect therefore “competent” to make the decision for themselves, even if it goes against their parents’ wishes.
Prior to the issue of the Covid vaccine, this was most significantly seen in circumstances where a decision had to be made whether a “child” was able to seek provision of birth control and/or treatment for sexual issues without requiring the notification of their parents and securing of parental consent.
Resolution through a Court process
Outside of this, if parents hold strongly held views in regards to vaccinations for example the MMR jab, it may well be necessary for this to be resolved through a Court process.
Whilst the Court will look at the issues and the impacts and effects of its determination upon the child and also the parents, in general terms I have found that unless there are good, clear and unambiguous medical reasons not to provide for vaccination to a child, Courts will often take the view that the science identifies that the child will be better off vaccinated than not and are likely to provide for that vaccination.
Whilst Courts will take into account strongly held religious views, in general terms when giving consideration to the suitability or otherwise of provision of vaccination and/or medical treatment, as indicated the Court is more likely to side with the “science” and indicate that a child’s best interest may well override personally held or indeed religious views.
More general child care
A less serious but often substantially important aspect of a child’s care can be disputes between the parents in relation to how they view and consider their child should be provided for.
I will look at this in further detail in a subsequent article but unfortunately I have seen substantive dispute and argument arise between parents over, for example, the basic provisions of care relating to a child’s appearance. Should a child have long hair, short hair, be allowed make-up, and/or nail extensions.
This is a particularly difficult issue to resolve as these issues rarely would justify the termination or substantive extension of contact arrangements but can create significant tension and difficulty between parents.
By preference, as always, the parents should reach an agreement in this regard but if not in certain circumstances this may be a significant issue in relation to Court proceedings as to who is entitled to make the decisions in this regard.
Clearly the older the child is the more weight would be provided by the Court to that child’s views as indeed probably should be accorded by the parents themselves.
As a rough rule of thumb, if the child is mainly in the care of one parent with more limited contact arrangements to the other, it would probably be reasonable to assume that the parent with the primary levels of care would be the one that would determine the most appropriate arrangements for length of hair etc.
If you have asked questions in relation to vaccinations or other aspects of a child’s care and would now like more information on the different types of proceedings relating to children, please get in touch and we would be happy to assist you.
This article is part of a series on Private Family Law and Children Law proceedings. If you would like to learn more about the rules around parental responsibility, contact, holidays and arrangements for separated parents, please click here for the full series.
The next article in the series will address religious upbringing.
If you would like to discuss the different types of legal proceedings relating to children, please get in touch and we’d be happy to assist you.