Man “Lost Custody” Due to Vaccination Status: Could It Happen to You?

Just when you thought the COVID-19 Pandemic was over, the CDC has just announced another rapidly spreading variant of the virus. And there’s a lot we don’t know about this variant. Though hospitalization rates seem to be lower now than they were at other points in the pandemic, the latest variant is still too new to make any accurate predictions about the severity of the BA.5 variant. Therefore, the CDC is still urging all eligible people to get the COVID-19 vaccination. The choice to get vaccinated is a personal one, but many parents are taking their unvaccinated exes to court over it in hopes of getting more custody. With stories about parents losing custody over-vaccination status, many are wondering whether or not it could happen to them too.

The Short Answer

The story of a father losing custody due to his vaccination status has many people—both vaccinated and unvaccinated—concerned about their rights as parents. Can you really lose custody over your child due to your vaccination status? And is an unvaccinated parent really allowed to potentially spread the virus to their immunocompromised child? These are typically the most common questions from both sides of the vaccine debate. Unfortunately, there’s not really a short answer to either question. When it comes to questions about vaccination status and custody, the answer is likely going to depend on your circumstances and where you live.

So, What Happened?

A lot of this is going to depend on where you live. The man who lost custody of his children due to his vaccination status lives in Canada. So far, we’ve not been able to find any stories of a parent permanently losing custody of their child due to vaccination status in the United States. Also, one of the man’s children was immunocompromised. Lastly, the article says that he “lost custody” but there’s no indication as to what “losing custody” actually means. Did he actually permanently lose custody, or was his custody temporarily suspended? Did he lose legal custody as well as physical custody? The news articles weren’t specific. The point is that “losing custody” can mean many different things.

Legal Definitions

When lawyers talk about the best interests of the child, they’re usually referring to an arrangement that will offer the child the most stable and enriching childhood where all the child’s physical, mental, and emotional needs are met. In the most simple terms, a custody order is kind of like an arrangement. And this arrangement can include multiple things such as, where the child will attend school, how much time they’ll spend with each parent, where they’ll attend church, which parent has the final say, and more. No two arrangements are the same; some may include all of the aforementioned and more, some may include less. In family law, everything is on a case-by-case basis. 

Modifying Custody Orders

In the majority of custody cases surrounding vaccination, a lot of this will likely depend on what’s in the custody order—assuming there is one in the first place. Most judges don’t like to mess around with custody orders too much. Modifying a custody order too frequently may decrease the stability of a child’s life, thus adversely affecting the child mentally and emotionally. A lot of states have requirements for modifying custody. For example, in Utah, there needs to be a significant change of circumstances, and the modification needs to be in the best interests of the child. In the case of the Canadian father, it seems as though he already had a custody order in place, and it was temporarily modified until either the threat of COVID subsides, or he receives the vaccine.

Could It Happen in America?

Again, what would happen in The United States would heavily depend on which state has jurisdiction. It would also depend on what’s in the best interests of the child. A parent with an immunocompromised child would likely have a better chance of successfully arguing that the other parent needs to receive the vaccination. This is especially true if the immunocompromised child was unable to receive the vaccination. In a lot of states, it’s very difficult to completely remove parental rights from a parent who is willing and able to be involved in their child’s life. The case would have to be extreme for an American parent to permanently lose custody of their child based upon vaccination status. If the aforementioned were to happen, there would likely be more factors than just vaccination status alone. If this is a topic that concerns you, your best option is to seek legal advice from someone who practices where you live.