MONTREAL -- As preparations get underway to begin vaccinating 12 to 17-year-olds against COVID-19, family law attorneys warn there could be a rise in conflict if one parent wants their child to be vaccinated, but the other does not.

The Quebec government announced last week it plans to offer the first vaccine dose to all 12- to 17-year-olds by the end of the school year. The only vaccine currently approved for this age group is the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

"First, you have to distinguish between teenagers 14 and older and those that are younger," states Lucilia Santos, a Montreal family law attorney.

She explains teens 14 and older can consent or refuse the vaccine without having to ask their parents, but the consent of both parents is required for younger children.

Santos says in Quebec, parental authority is exercised jointly by both parents, so they must both consent to the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine, as is the case for any other vaccine or medical care.

However, if one parent refuses to allow their child to be inoculated, the other can go to court to have the vaccination ordered.

"This is quite costly," admitted Santos.

Brigitte Binette, a St. Eustatius lawyer specializing in family matters, adds mediation can often help to resolve differences of opinion.

Nevertheless, "if the parents are set in their ways and are not open to accepting each other's position, mediation may not be enough," adds Santos. The outcome of such a court case will depend on what a judge considers to be 'the best interests of the child.'"

Binette notes there is already case law on the subject from previous vaccines.

The parent who objects to the vaccination will have to present the judge with a medical note or offer the testimony of a doctor to support their position, alleging that the vaccination is not in the best interest of the young person, Binette says. Otherwise, the courts will follow Public Health's prescription for the vaccine.

She adds the refusal cannot be based solely on the beliefs of a parent who does not believe in COVID-19 or vaccination.

The two lawyers say they have not received any phone calls from parents wondering what to do if there is a conflict.

"But we anticipate getting some," Binette said.

They say they expect this to be the new big issue related to COVID-19, especially for those who are already experienced conflicts over health compliances since the pandemic began.

"We're all apprehensive that this is going to be the new wave," says Santos.

Both lawyers point out that COVID-19 has generated new types of conflicts within families since March 2020, including when a parent fails to follow health rules, when parents disagree about joint custody or returning children to class when schools reopened and, most recently, in cases of parents who want to go abroad, with or without the children.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 11, 2021.