Can a judge order that a child be vaccinated against one parent’s wishes?
Caselaw Covington

COVINGTON and COVINGTON: can a judge order that a child be vaccinated against one parent’s wishes? 

With recent approval of the Covid-19 vaccination for those in Australia aged 5 and over the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia has seen an influx of parenting cases where the parents disagree about whether to vaccinate their child, or when to do it. 

Does the Court have the power to order that a child receive a vaccination if one of the parent’s refuses? 

Cases such as Mains and Redden (2011) and Covington and Covington (2021) although not specifically dealing with the issue of Covid-19 vaccinations suggest that yes, they do. 

The Covington case– withdrawal of consent to vaccinate a child 

In the case of Covington in Covington the Full Court of the Family Court of Australia confirmed that the Court has jurisdiction to order vaccination of a child irrespective of whether one of the parents does not consent.

The Facts: 

The mother sought a stay of parenting orders previously consented to by her which included an order that the child receive vaccinations as recommended by the child’s paediatrician.

Although the mother had originally consented to these orders, shortly after they were made, she withdrew her consent to the order relating to vaccination claiming that she felt pressured and coerced at the time that consent was given. 

The mother also argued that the Court only had power to make the order upon the mutual consent of the parties, and in absence of her consent the order would contravene the Constitution which she alleged enshrined protection against compulsory vaccination.  

The Decision: 

The Full Court found no merit in the mother’s arguments. It held that the Family Court of Australia (now Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia) has jurisdiction to make an order that a child be vaccinated, supporting the earlier Mains and Redden decision. The Court can make in order that a child be vaccinated if it is in that child’s best interests, regardless of parental consent. Accordingly, the mother’s withdrawal of consent after the orders were made did not invalidate the vaccination order. 

The Covid-19 Landscape

Although Covington and Mains were not directly related to COVID-19 vaccination, they are relevant as they confirm that the Court does have jurisdiction to order vaccination regardless of parental consent. 

While it is clear the Court does have such a power, even if a parent opposes vaccination, it should be noted that this is not a power that the Court will exercise arbitrarily or flippantly. 

Need further help? 

If vaccinating your child for Covid-19 or against any other illness has become a topic of contention in your family, or if you think it might become one, contact one of our friendly and knowledgeable lawyers to discuss your options. 

Freeman Family Law has been assisting clients for over 30 years on matters involving divorce or separation, complex financial and property issues, as well as advice on parenting and wills & estates. Book an appointment with an Accredited Family Law Specialist online or at one of our offices in Yarraville, South Melbourne, Caroline Springs, Essendon or Mornington.

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