For many parents, the topic of vaccinations is a very personal one. There are strong stances on both sides of the vaccination divide, with some believing that vaccinations should be mandatory, and others believing that the decision to vaccinate should be their own. While the issue most commonly arises between parents and educational institutions, it is becoming more common for it to arise between separated parents. Although California has yet to decide a case involving violation of a court order for vaccinations, a recent Michigan case sheds some light on how California might rule on this issue.
In general, California has strict vaccination laws. California, along with the other 49 states, requires that school-age children be vaccinated against childhood diseases as a condition to attending school and day care programs. While some states do recognize your right to not vaccinate on religious grounds, and others recognize your right to not vaccinate on moral or philosophical grounds, California is not one of those states. The only permitted exemptions in California are for valid medical reasons. According to the National Vaccine Information Center, to qualify under a medical exemption, a parent or guardian must submit a written statement from a licensed physician (M.D. or D.O.) which confirms that the physical condition or medical circumstances of the child is such that the required immunization is not indicated, states which vaccines are being exempted, whether the medical exemption is permanent or temporary, and the expiration date, if the exemption is temporary.
The list of recognized medical exemptions in California is very narrow. You may find it at the National Vaccine Information Center website. It includes Autoimmune Conditions, Hyper immune conditions, Immune cancers, Immune deficiencies, Genetic SNP’s associated with increased vaccine reaction risk, and vaccine reactions. However, the state will not provide an exemption for ADD, behavior issues, psychiatric diseases, Asperger’s, Autism, neurologic diseases, hypertension, heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease, or adult onset diabetes.
Similarly, California’s contempt statutes contemplate strict compliance with a court order. Under California Civil Procedure Code sections 1218 and 1219, a party subject to a valid court order who, with knowledge of the order and the ability to comply, fails to comply with the terms of the order, is subject to a contempt adjudication and statutory contempt penalties. Under California Penal Code section 166, contempt of court refers to any behavior that is disrespectful to the court process, including but not limited to, willfully disobeying a court order. The consequences of this may include jail time and/or fines.
The recent Michigan case involved a mother who was ordered, through a custody agreement, to maintain the child’s vaccinations. Despite this, the mother told the judge that she was personally opposed to vaccinating her son, and thus would not comply with the court order. This resulted in the mother being held in contempt of court, and the judge ordering her to spend 7 days in jail. The issue at hand was not specifically focused on the child being vaccinated or not, but rather on the mother’s willful disobedience of a clear order to maintain her child’s vaccinations.
The issue of complying with a court order is one that California is clear on. As such, if you are ordered by a court to maintain your child’s vaccinations, you must comply, or risk being held in contempt. However, in the event you are held in contempt of court, you do maintain your due process protections in the contempt proceeding. Contempt proceedings are criminal in nature, which means you have the right to notice, the opportunity to be heard, the right to counsel, the criminal burden of proof (beyond a reasonable doubt), and in some cases, the right to a jury trial.
If you have an issue concerning your rights regarding vaccinations, compliance with court orders, or contempt of court, please contact one of the experienced attorneys at Lonich Patton Ehrlich Policastri. We offer a free half-hour consultations.
Lastly, please remember that each individual situation is unique, and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results. While this post may detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice. Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.