A Chicago mother told various media outlets that her parental rights were stripped by a Cook County judge after he learned she had not yet received the COVID-19 vaccine.
Fox 32 Chicago reported that the mother, Rebecca Firlit, appeared in court via Zoom on August 10 for a child support hearing with her ex-husband. “The two have been divorced for seven years and share custody and parenting time” of their 11-year-old son, Fox reported.
Firlit told the outlet that Cook County Judge James Shapiro suddenly asked during the hearing whether she had received the COVID-19 vaccine. Firlit responded that she had not taken the vaccine since she had previous bad reactions to other vaccines. Shapiro then ordered Firlit to be stripped of her parenting time until she gets the vaccine.
For more than two weeks, Firlit was only able to talk to her son on the phone and over video calls, but she was not able to see him in person.
“I think that it’s wrong. 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 told Fox.
Firlit appealed the order, arguing that Shapiro went beyond his authority as a judge when denying her the right to see her child.
“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,” Firlit told Fox.
Firlit’s attorney, Annette Fernholz, told the outlet the judge overstepped in this case.
“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.’ That kind of exceeds his jurisdiction,” Fernholz said.
“You have to understand the father did not even bring this issue before the court. So it’s the judge on his own and making this decision that you can’t see your child until you’re vaccinated,” she added.
The father’s attorney, Jeffrey Leving, said he was surprised by the judge’s decision but agreed with it, since there have been children who have died from COVID-19.
Firlit told the outlet that she missed her son.
“I miss my son more than anything. It’s been very difficult. I haven’t seen him since August 10th,” Firlit said. “I think it’s not in my son’s best interest to be away from his mother.”
Firlit appealed, and on Monday, Shapiro reversed his decision, Fox reported.
“Judge Shapiro just issued an order vacating portions of his prior order of August 11th so Rebecca Firlit can see her son again,” Fernholz told the outlet.
The attorney for the mother also said she believed Shapiro reversed his decision because of the media backlash.
“I think there’s been a lot of media outcry,” Fernholz told Fox. “The divorce bar here in Illinois has been responding when they saw it on the news.”
Firlit said that even though the order was released, she worried her ex-husband may use it in the future to get custody.
Michael Bender, an attorney representing Firlit’s son, said there was more to the case than what has been reported. He said Firlit was “volatile” during the child support hearing on August 10.
“He was seeing something that clearly said to him, ‘There is an endangerment to the child right now.’ And we’re gonna act on it,” Bender told Fox.
Firlit says her behavior didn’t cause her to lose her child temporarily.
“It definitely was not a reason to take my child away from me,” she said. “I’m not an endangerment to him. Nothing was filed about that. Nothing that we were in the hearing for had anything to do with it.”
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