With the COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out in Australia a new wave of parental disputes is arising.

Of note to all parents is that at the present time there is no vaccine approved for administration to children under the age of 16 years in Australia. The Astra Zeneca vaccine is not approved for anyone under 18 years.

At this stage, not even everybody can even receive the vaccine as we only entered phase 1b of the rollout plan on 22 March 2021. This phase includes the elderly aged 70 years and over. That could be relevant in family law matters if supervised time is to recommence if it is supervised by an elderly grandparent. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults aged over 55 also are covered in this phase of the rollout. The phase includes high-risk workers but that does not include teachers. In fact, teachers are not specifically mentioned at all in the rollout and they simply get their turn when their age category is announced, despite their exposure to children who can’t be vaccinated (interesting side note).

Children under the age of 16 are not even mentioned in the rollout plan except for a notional mention at Phase 3 and that is only *if recommended.

Further the vaccine is currently not mandatory – that’s right is voluntary. So that means a parent cannot reasonably withhold or threaten to withhold a child simply because the other parent has not been vaccinated. Also, don’t be fooled by the other parent telling you if you are not vaccinated your government payments will be cut – it won’t be.

Please don’t listen therefore to any threats about withholding children until their vaccinated against COVID. It is simply that, a threat, and has no way of being implemented given children cannot receive the COVID vaccine.

There are only exceptional circumstances where withholding a child will be endorsed by a Court. Where there is a Parenting Order in place the test is known as ‘reasonable excuse’. Meeting that threshold may not be as easy as simply alleging risk to a child. The Court will of course have to consider any allegations raised in defense of withholding a child but that will be considered against the need to preserve the child’s relationship with both parents.

Breaching Parenting Orders is a serious matter and if found to have breached Orders without reasonable excuse the Court can apply penalties to the breaching parent. Those penalties can range from a reprimand, a fine, a change in the Orders, and in severe cases imprisonment.

If you are having difficulty with the other parent about vaccine issues or threats to withhold a child (for any reason), please get in touch with me in our Brisbane office and I can set the record straight for you and help you with your post-separation parenting matters.