While many parents may be wondering, should I vaccinate my child against COVID-19, moms and dads in the middle of custody disputes or divorce proceedings may be stuck with an additional question — can I vaccinate my child against COVID-19?

Legal experts say COVID vaccination is slowly becoming a more central issue in divorce cases in New Jersey — one parent is for the shots, and the other is not — and the number of disputes is expected to increase significantly over the next few months.

"If they're equal in terms of physical custody and equal in terms of legal custody, who, then, gets to make the decision?" said Rebecca Frino, counsel in the family law practice at Mandelbaum Barrett in Roseland.

Frino admits there aren't many clear answers in this area, including whether or not someone with a greater share of physical custody has a leg up in the vaccination debate. If parents share legal custody, they're supposed to make the major decisions together.

"But legal custody is premised on the idea that the parties are able to confer and agree upon those major decisions," Frino said.

Frino said we're living in an unprecedented age and it's not uncommon for the law to play catch-up with reality.

Either of a child's parents technically has the right to get their child vaccinated without the consent of the other parent. But that could open the door to legal disputes, depending on the custody arrangement.

Whether they like it or not, Frino said, parents need to attempt to have an open and honest dialogue about their opinions on the topic.

"If you're still at odds, perhaps you involve a child therapist or a child's treating pediatrician," Frino said.

Law offices are bracing for an uptick in these debates when many schools permit students and staff to unmask in March, and when emergency authorization is eventually granted on a vaccine for children younger than 5.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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