Written by Jessica Popple
In April 2020, the Honourable Chief Justice, Will Alstergren, announced that the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia would introduce a specialised Covid-19 List, to help families impacted by the pandemic. Since its commencement in April 2020, the Court has received more than 430 Applications to the Covid-19 List in relation to parenting and property matters, that were specifically impacted due to the Covid-19 crisis.
In December 2020, the Court announced that the Covid-19 List would now be expanded “due to the likely increase of urgent Applications following the holiday period, which is a time which often places additional emotional and financial stress on families. This is likely to be further exacerbated as the government financial support measures are lifted”.
The Court is also anticipating numerous Applications when the coronavirus vaccine is released.
It is not uncommon for parents to disagree after separation in relation to vaccinations generally. Vaccinations generally fall under the umbrella of a major long term issue that affects a child. Parents are able to apply to a Court for an Order allocating specific parental responsibility for immunisation. There are many cases which discuss whether a child should be immunised (Kingsford v Kingsford  FamCA 889, Duke-Randall v Randall  FamCA 126 and Tolbert v Tolbert (2)  FamCA 532).
Often disagreements between parents relate to vaccinations listed on the National Immunisation Program Schedule. The court has demonstrated an overwhelming tendance to Order in favour of vaccinations listed on the Schedule, as they therefor deem them to be in the best interests of the child.
It is not clear at this stage whether the Covid-19 vaccine will be part of the National Immunisation Program Schedule. Until it is, the Courts will be required to consider if the vaccination is in the best interests of the child. This will include different medical opinions and will be dependent on each child and their family’s circumstances.
This issue has already been tested in Canada. A father bought an Application to have his 7 year old vaccinated with all available vaccines, including Covid-19, if and when that becomes available. Justice Penny held “When and if such a vaccine becomes available, both parents should meet with the child’s doctor to discuss the vaccination for [the child] against Covid-19. In the event that the mother refuses to attend this meeting with the father and the doctor, or at the meeting refuses to consent to the child being vaccinated, I am granting the father, as an incident of custody and access (parental responsibility) the unilateral power to consent to [the child] being vaccinated against Covid-19. I am satisfied that he has no bias against the vaccinations in general, and will be able to decide this issue on the advice he receives. If the father decides that the child should be vaccinated, and if the child’s regular doctor is prepared to administer the vaccination to the child, the father will arrange with the child’s regular doctor to administer the vaccine.” (Tarkowski v Lemieux, 2020 ONCJ 280)
If you believe that you need to make an Application in the Covid-19 list for parenting, family violence, vaccinations or property matters, then you should contact our office to discuss this further.