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Anti-vax movement sparks debate over child's best interests

Here's a complicated one for you: Is choosing not to vaccinate your child in their best interests? And no, we're not talking about parenting decisions like whether to let a child have ice cream after 8:00 p.m. We're talking about the court's definition of "child's best interests," which is a powerful phrase in family law, especially when it comes to child custody decisions.

The reason we raise this question is because of a news story out of Michigan in which a 40-year-old mother was jailed after refusing to vaccinate her child. According to an article in the Detroit Free Press, the child's father, who has shared custody of the child, wants his child vaccinated while his ex-wife, the 40-year-old mother, does not. Their situation has raised an interesting question for a judge to consider: What is truly in the best interests of the child?

What would a California judge consider in this case?

If this case were happening here in California, a judge in our state would need to consider the same question. But in order to answer the question, he or she would need to look to California law for guidance.

Under FAM CA §3011, specifically sub-section (a), a judge would need to consider whether the decision made by one parent - in this case the mother - took into account the "health, safety, and welfare of the child."  However, the decision for the judge is not "to vaccinate/not" but which parent is the one best able to make such medical decisions for the child and gets the decision-making power.

Those who support the use of vaccinations to protect children from life-threatening illnesses such as polio, diphtheria and smallpox would agree that choosing not to vaccinate your child could very well put his or her life in danger, thereby failing to meet the premise of the law.

It's something worth thinking about

Even though vaccination rates among kindergarteners in California are the highest they've been in years, states an April article for the Sacramento Bee, some children still may not be vaccinated because of their a parent's beliefs. As such, it's possible a case similar to the one mentioned above could happen here, which could force judges across the state to rethink what it means to act in the best interests of the child.

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