COVID vaccination in divorce court; therapists say kids caught in middle

If you think the debate about COVID has reached a tipping point in schools and workplaces, attorney Karl Schefft says there’s another vaccination battleground looming -- in divorce court.

"I believe it will be coming up more and more frequently once the emergency approval comes up," Schefft told FOX6 News from his Cedarburg office.  

Schefft has been practicing family law there for more than three decades. Once younger children become eligible for the COVID vaccine, Schefft believes more divorced parents will soon debate whether their children should be or shouldn’t be vaccinated.  

 Karl Schefft

 Karl Schefft

The CDC currently recommends everyone 12 years and older get a COVID-19 vaccination.  

"I’ve had that issue arise two different times on children that are above age 12 now that it is available," Schefft shared.

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"The court will not say, ‘I think the child should have the COVID shot.’ The court will instead say ‘I believe dad or mom’s position on this is best and I’m going to award the right to dad or mom the right to make these medical decisions,’" Schefft said.

Schefft said the court will consider potential harm to the child.  

"At the hearing – if you can’t resolve it – you’d have to have the pediatrician ready to and willing to testify if needed.  Some doctors drop out at that point.  Some don’t want to be involved with that," Schefft said.

Schefft said most cases will resolve the issue in mediation but he expects the already contentious issue of COVID vaccines to grow heated in court. No matter the outcome, children are caught in the middle.

"In none of our states can a 10-year-old go and consent for their own vaccination. But I do think we also need to understand 10-year-olds can have something to say about who they are. They’re not a fully formed adult, but they have things to say. We want to developmentally express their needs," added Doctor Stephanie Eken, the Regional Medical Director for Rogers Behavioral Health.  

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Eken too is starting to see more conflict over vaccinations among divorced families. It’s taking its toll on kids. 

"I do think that kids should talk to parents if they have feelings about how they are feeling about their own body and health. They learn to become advocates for themselves. Parents need to model too how to think through making decisions about one’s health," Eken said. "Even though they may not come to the same conclusion, I think parents having appropriate modeling in front of them about how they chose what is appropriate for their own health can be a really great thing to show their kids."

Doctor Stephanie Eken

Doctor Stephanie Eken

Eken is seeing the pandemic intensify conflict among divorced and separated parents. A therapist’s office can often be a neutral ground to resolve these issues before it heads to court.

"Both parents love [their child] and are doing their best to make the best decision," Eken said. "It doesn’t always match up. But it’s coming from a place of love and we should help them work through how to deliver that information."

Back in Schefft’s office, he left us with the same message he shares with all his clients: a motto with new importance during the era of COVID-19: "You started as friends, try and end as friends. Do it as friendly as you can because that’s in your children’s best interest.  It always is."


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