Law & the Courts

Judge Blocks Mother’s Shared Custody over COVID-19 Vaccine Refusal: Report

(Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

A mother in Illinois says a judge has stripped her parental rights because she is not vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a new report.

Earlier this month, Cook County judge James Shapiro ruled that Rebecca Firlit can’t see her eleven-year-old son until she receives a COVID-19 vaccine, FOX 32 Chicago reported. Firlit had previously shared custody and parenting time with her ex-husband.

The couple, who have been divorced for seven years, appeared in court via Zoom for a child-support hearing on August 10, when Shapiro reportedly asked the mother if she had been vaccinated.

Firlit said she had not received the shot because she has had adverse reactions from other vaccines in the past.

Shapiro then reportedly ordered Firlit to be stripped of all parenting time with her son until she gets vaccinated. Since the ruling, Firlit has only been allowed to speak to her son via phone and video calls. She has not seen her son in more than two weeks and told FOX 32 that she misses him “more than anything” and that it has been “very difficult.”

She has argued that it was “wrong” of the judge to block her parental rights over her vaccination status. “I think that it’s dividing families. And I think it’s not in my son’s best interest to be away from his mother,” Firlit said.

“It had nothing to do with what we were talking about. He was placing his views on me. And taking my son away from me,” she said.

Firlit’s attorney, Annette Fernholz, said the judge’s decision “kind of exceeds his jurisdiction.”

“In this case you have a judge, without any matter before him regarding the parenting time with the child deciding ‘Oh, you’re not vaccinated. You don’t get to see your child until you are vaccinated,” Fernholz said. “You have to understand the father did not even bring this issue before the court,” she added. “So it’s the judge on his own and making this decision that you can’t see your child until you’re vaccinated.”

Jeffrey Leving, the attorney for Firlit’s ex-husband, told Fox 32 that while the judge’s order was a shock, they support the decision. “There are children who have died because of COVID. I think every child should be safe. And I agree that the mother should be vaccinated,” Leving said. 

While children under the age of twelve are not currently eligible to be vaccinated, National Review has previously reported that unvaccinated children have a lower risk of death or serious outcome from COVID-19 than vaccinated people in their 30s do.

Still, hospitals across the country have reported increasing pediatric COVID-19 cases as the highly transmissible Delta variant spreads, prompting renewed conversations about COVID-19 mitigation strategies in schools.

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