Litigating COVID-19 Vaccines in the Family Law Context

Litigating COVID-19 Vaccines in the Family Law Context

Posted on 01/06/2021 at 04:47 PM by Regan Conder

Understanding Child Custody

As stressful as disentangling a marriage is to the parents in the throes of a divorce, it is often much more so for the child who witnesses his parents go through this process. Dickinson's family law attorneys are sensitive to clients' desires to protect the best interests of the children.

Parties to the dissolution of marriage frequently confuse the difference between legal custody and physical custody.

Legal custody refers to a parent's rights and responsibilities with regard to decisions affecting the child's legal status, medical care, education, extracurricular activities, and religious instruction. Physical custody, on the other hand, refers to the right and responsibility to maintain the principal home of the child and provide for the routine care of the child. 

If a party desires joint physical custody as opposed to sole physical custody, the court will take into consideration the following four primary factors: 

  1. stability and continuity for the child;
  2. whether the parents have the ability to communicate and show mutual respect;
  3. the degree of conflict present in the parents' relationship; and
  4. whether the parents are in general agreement about their approach to daily matters.

When it comes to determining what happens to children after a separation or divorce, the parents drive the custody case. If parents can work together to achieve a fair and proper custody arrangement that is in the best interests of the child, the judge will likely adopt it into a court order.

Working together is the best opportunity for parents to control what happens to their families.

Legal Custody in Iowa

Under Iowa law, there are two different types legal custody: joint legal custody and sole legal custody.

Sole legal custody is defined as giving a parent the ability to make all decisions regarding the child’s education, extracurricular activities, medical needs, and religious instruction without any input from the other parent. Because sole legal custody provides one parent with considerable power, it is often only awarded in cases where there is a history of domestic abuse.

The more common form of legal custody is joint custody. This provides both parents equal participation in the child’s education, extracurricular activities, medical needs, and religious instruction.

In joint legal custody, neither parent has legal custody rights superior to the other parent, which creates stalemates when the parties are unable to compromise on decisions for the child.

Navigating Stalemates in Joint Legal Custody

When an impasse arises, such as whether the child should be vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccination, what is the correct course of action? The Iowa Court of Appeals recently acknowledged this dilemma in In Re Marriage of Rigdon, 2020 WL 7868234 (Iowa Ct. App., Dec. 16, 2020).

In Rigdon, the parents disputed whether their child should be administered psychotropic medicine. After failing to reach an agreement, the custodial parent proceeded with allowing the child to take the medicine. In response, the non-custodial parent filed a contempt action alleging the custodial parent violated his joint legal custody rights.

In Rigdon, the Iowa Court of Appeals suggested that the better course of action may have been for the court to decide the dispute before any further action was taken. That option, however, can be expensive and cumbersome for legal custody disputes that need immediate resolution.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, operating in a joint custody agreement and trying to make the best decisions for your child's health in the midst of a pandemic, feel free to contact Regan Conder at Dickinson Law.

Regan practices primarily as a family law and general civil litigation attorney. In her family law practice, she litigates actions concerning child custody and complex property disputes. In child custody actions, Regan’s approach is to zealously advocate for her client’s position while safeguarding the minor children involved.

Let Dickinson Law in Des Moines, IA assist you in navigating the legal system in order to make the best decision for your child.

Categories: Family Law, Regan Conder


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