Mother Loses Custody Over Vaccination Status

Ruling apparently a first for custody rights

Rebecca Firlit / WFLD
August 30, 2021

A Chicago mother lost custody of her 11-year-old son because of her COVID-19 vaccination status, apparently the first ruling of its kind.

Cook County judge James Shapiro asked Rebecca Firlit on Aug. 10 in a virtual child support hearing whether she was vaccinated, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. When Firlit said she was not, Shapiro stripped her of parental custody. The ruling shocked Firlit, who said the hearing was "supposed to be about expenses and child support." The judge will not allow her to see her son until she has been vaccinated.

"One of the first things he asked me when I got on the Zoom call was whether or not I was vaccinated, which threw me off because I asked him what it had to do with the hearing," Firlit said. "I've had adverse reactions to vaccines in the past and was advised not to get vaccinated by my doctor. It poses a risk."

While some judges have lightened sentences for defendants who decide to get the vaccine, this is the first known instance of a parent losing custody over their vaccination status.

Annette Fernholz, Firlit's attorney, told the Washington Post they are appealing the ruling as an overreach.

"The father did not even bring this issue before the court," Fernholz said. "So it's the judge on his own and making this decision that you can't see your child until you're vaccinated."

Firlit also said the judge appeared frustrated and that the hearing took hours. She and her ex-husband have been divorced for seven years and share joint custody, according to her attorney. Her ex-husband, who is vaccinated, did not raise the issue of vaccination status during the hearing but said he agreed with the judge's ruling. He will fight the appeal, according to his attorney.

"There are children who have died because of COVID," the father's attorney said. "I think every child should be safe. And I agree that the mother should be vaccinated."

Firlit hopes her case will be a rallying cry for parents concerned about government interference in personal affairs.

"I feel like this will resonate with people because this is how things will go if we don't speak up," Firlit said. "Dividing families, taking children from their parents, we have to speak out to make sure this is not the new thing. Unfortunately, I had to be the first person that this happened to, but parents aren't going to stand for that."