Vaccines and Videoconferencing Pose Unexpected Challenge for Family Court
More than any other category of law, none is arguably more affected by societal change than family law. The COVID-19 pandemic enacted significant changes to many countries across the globe, and the ramifications of those changes will be felt in family court for years, decades, and perhaps forever.
Vaccination Conflict After Divorce
Pre-COVID, vaccinations were already a contentious subject among many divorced parents. However, these arguments escalated dramatically with the introduction of the COVID vaccine. Currently, vaccination is available for anyone 12 or older, but eligibility will likely soon extend to children as young as two.
Some parents object to all vaccinations for their children. For example, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control, on average 2.5 percent of all kindergarteners entering the school system across the US for the 2018-2019 school year were officially exempted from vaccination. Only 0.3% of these exemptions were given for medical reasons. The rest were based on the parents’ personal beliefs.
During a divorce, legal complications arise when one parent is opposed to vaccinations, but the other is not. Visitation is a frequent concern. The pro-vaccine parent may attempt to block the unvaccinated child from living with the anti-vaccine parent, citing health risks. As the COVID vaccine becomes available for young children, family law experts expect an increase in these types of disputes.
However, where these disputes will play out is unknown. During the initial COVID lockdowns, courts across the country shifted away from in-person proceedings to video conferencing – and many courts appear in no hurry to switch back.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Video Court
For routine legal issues, videoconferencing can offer several advantages over in-person proceedings. Participants can avoid driving to the courthouse, paying for a parking space, and navigating their way through the building. The entire process can take hours, even if the time spent in court is only a few minutes.
Additionally, many participants such as witnesses, victims, and other non-lawyers feel more comfortable with virtual court. They are allowed to testify from their own homes, where they don’t have to physically see spectators and other participants.
However, virtual court poses disadvantages, too. Judges, lawyers, and clients can all potentially struggle with the technological systems involved. Anyone with substandard computer literacy skills can find themselves at a disadvantage.
Plus, communication can suffer. For example, because everyone has a slightly different setup, it is difficult to tell where someone is looking. In a courtroom, all parties should make clear eye contact with the judge when speaking but establishing eye contact via webcams is difficult. While that might seem insignificant, it can actually convey a sense of disinterest or untrustworthiness.
“Even though the threat of COVID is drastically diminishing, its effects on family court will likely remain for the foreseeable future,” says Tammy Begun Esquire of Capital Family & Divorce Law Group. “Fights over vaccinations will require urgent action, as contention between parents can result in a loss of visitation rights. Also, lawyers will need to alter some basic strategies to account for the effect video conferencing can have on the proceedings.”
As attorneys and other parties navigate these new systems, it remains unclear if state-level legislative solutions are needed to help make the transition smooth and fair for everyone involved.