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Vaccine Passports: A New Co-Parenting Dilemma

The current headlines are full of reports about the Ontario government’s upcoming requirement for “Vaccine Passports”. Other Canadian provinces embraced and successfully implemented this kind of vaccination confirming regime. (Namely British Columbia, Quebec and Manitoba). Of course they have also attracted controversy and more than their share of detractors.

From a Family Law perspective, Vaccine Passports are arguably a very good thing. Especially for separated and divorced parents with co-parenting arrangements.

The Vaccine Passport Regime, Described

First, we need to briefly define the nature of Ontario’s upcoming Vaccine Passports system. (Which will come into effect on September 22, 2021.) After that rollout date, Ontario residents must show proof that they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to go places and participate in various non-essential activities. These include: dining indoors at restaurants and bars, going to theatres and sporting events, and attending concerts, music festivals, and movie cinemas.

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There will be a migration to a digital verification app available in time for October 22, 2021. It will use QR codes instead of vaccination receipts. It will also show an individual’s vaccination status through a graphic symbol.

Both methods will require the person to show I.D. alongside the proof of vaccinated status.

Younger Kids Exempted; Older Kids Are Not

For parents, it is important to know that the Ontario Vaccine Passport system specifically carves out an exemption for children born 2010 and later. Currently deemed medically ineligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at all.

Among other things, this means that only older children, aged 12 and up, who are also fully vaccinated can participate in the Vaccine Passport system. The corollary is that older children in that age group who are not vaccinated won’t be able to participate. This will exclude those children from attending the types of non-essential activities listed above.

Potential for Parental Discord

Before we get into the benefits of the Vaccine Passport system, we must also recognize that this can be yet another area of discord between separated and divorced parents who are unable to easily resolve their differences.

If one parent has an anti-vaccination mindset, this may cause tension and disagreement. Leaving the child in a position where they don’t receive a vaccine, and therefore cannot obtain the Passport. This in turn will impinge on the other parent’s ability to take the child to certain events. Even if that other parent has had their double-dose.

So far, the Ontario Family courts have stopped short of ordering parents to vaccinate their children against COVID-19. (Or to vaccinate themselves for that matter). However, even before the pandemic, courts have had a very distinct bias toward the health and safety of children. They tend to make rulings that support a pro-vaccination stance.

But even for those separated and divorced parents who both agree not to avoid vaccination themselves, and who do not want their child vaccinated… There are some necessary conversations that must be had. Specifically, on how to deal with their child’s exclusion from certain non-essential events that their peers may be enjoying. And how that might impact their children’s emotional wellbeing.

The Impact on Co-Parenting Arrangements

The introduction of the Vaccine Passport system will likely make life easier for separated and divorced parents who are co-parenting. (Assuming both fully-vaccinated and eligible to receive them). By extension, the same holds true for a child over 12 with both doses, or for any child under age 12.

First of all, it will expand the list of events and activities that a parent and child can enjoy together during their allocated parenting time. We are all familiar with the need to wear masks and keep a safe physical distance from others… But the widespread mandate for parents and eligible children to show a Vaccine Passport will help reduce the safety concerns that may arise in certain circumstances. When parenting time involves taking children out for everyday outings such as restaurants, movie theatres and big-ticket sporting events.

Exception for Youth Recreational Sports

Under Ontario’s upcoming Vaccine Passport regime, there is at least one noteworthy exception where children are concerned: Youth Recreational Sports. The government announced that they won’t require children to show via the Passport that they are double-vaccinated, as a precondition to participation. (This does not mean, however that COVID-19 protocols are removed; rather, there will still be various established safety measures in place, as with all individual and team sports).

This clear government-imposed exception should again make life easier for those working under a co-parenting regime. There will be no restrictions placed on their child’s ability to participate, with the now-established precautions.

Tie-in to Travel

Finally, ease of travel should also improve– and just in time, because travel is a big issue these days. Now that border restrictions are starting to lift and the cold-weather season will soon be upon us, separated and divorced parents may be giving thought to taking their child away on holiday. But with a changing array of domestic and international vaccination requirements and quarantine obligations, it can be very confusing endeavour for parents.

Again, the requirement for Vaccine Passports may make that easier. Eventually, other provinces and territories that already have such systems in place accept the Ontario Vaccine Passport and related app. Hopefully, integrated into the federal government’s current vaccine verification system for international travel.

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