What is joint legal custody?

Making decisions regarding the child’s vaccination, including COVID vaccination, may involve legal custody. Some custody orders give both parents joint legal custody (as opposed to sole custody). “‘Joint legal custody’ means both parents have equal rights and responsibilities for major decisions concerning the child, including the child’s education, health care, extracurricular activities, and religious training; provided, however, that the judge may designate one parent to have sole power to make certain decisions while both parents retain equal rights and responsibilities for other decisions.” O.C.G.A. § 19-9-6(5).

What are the major areas of decision-making?

The four major areas of decision-making regarding the child are as follows:

  • education;
  • non-emergency healthcare;
  • religious upbringing; and
  • extracurricular activities.

In the parenting plan, decision-making regarding these four areas may be assigned to one parent or the decision-making may be joint. If joint decision-making is ordered, one of the parents will be designated as the tie-breaker in case of disagreements for final decision-making. Vaccination, including COVID vaccination, usually involves decision-making regarding the child’s health care.

Making decisions pursuant to joint legal custody regarding the child’s COVID vaccination

Assuming there is no state or federal law or regulation making COVID vaccination mandatory, the parents with joint legal custody may decide whether their child will get COVID vaccination and if so, where and when the child will get the vaccination. The parents may also decide which specific COVID vaccination their child will get.

To figure out how this decision regarding COVID vaccination will be made pursuant to joint legal custody, you need to look at the parenting plan. The parent which the parenting plan designated as the final decision-maker regarding the child’s medical/health care may have the final say regarding this issue in a joint legal custody arrangement. Final decision-making authority regarding religion may play a role as well.

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