A Cook County judge who barred a divorced mother from seeing her 11-year-old son because she hasn't been vaccinated against COVID-19 rescinded the original ruling Monday, restoring the mother's parental rights.
Rebecca Firlit's case became the subject of national attention earlier this month after Cook County Judge James Shapiro asked the 39-year-old mother if she was vaccinated during an online child support hearing.
When she said no, the judge withdrew her rights to see the boy until she gets vaccinated. The judge, not Firlit's ex-husband, raised the issue during the Aug. 10 hearing.
“I was confused because it was just supposed to be about expenses and child support,” the mother stated. “I asked him what it had to do with the hearing, and he said, ‘I am the judge, and I make the decisions for your case.’”
Firlit explained she has had adverse reactions to vaccinations in the past and that her doctor had advised her not to get a COVID-19 shot. It's unclear if the mother told the judge about her past problems with vaccinations.
Since the judge reversed the ruling, Firlit is now permitted to visit her son in-person, though her ex-husband intends to appeal the decision.
"My client is definitely planning on fighting the court's decision because it's important the mother be vaccinated," said the father's attorney, Jeffery Leving.
More and more, family attorneys say disagreements over vaccinations are playing a role in divorce proceedings and custody battles.
"Ever since COVID-19, the courts have been bombarded with additional issues," said Annette Fernholz, the mother's attorney. "Divorce attorneys have been working six, seven days a week. It's issues regarding schooling, vaccinations, remote learning. All of these things have become an issue."
This case, attorneys say, will likely not be the last of its kind.
"It's a real issue, and it's a new issue," Leving said. "It has to be addressed, because every child has to be safe."