In what many say is the first ruling of its kind, a divorced Pilsen mother has had her child visitation revoked by a Cook County judge because she is not vaccinated against COVID-19.
On Aug. 10, Cook County Judge James Shapiro barred Rebecca Firlit, the mother of an 11-year-old boy, from seeing her son.
Firlit’s attorney, Annette Fernholz, said her client and the ex-husband have been divorced for seven years and sharing custody.
Fernholz said the issue was not raised by her ex-husband.
Rather, the judge asked Firlit if she was vaccinated during a child support hearing via Zoom, and when she said no, the judge stripped her of all parenting time with her son until she gets vaccinated.
“I’ve had adverse reactions to vaccines in the past and was advised not to get vaccinated by my doctor. It poses a risk,” Firlit told the Chicago Sun-Times.
A 39-year-old desk clerk from Pilsen, Firlit said she was caught off guard by the judge and was shocked at his ruling.
“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 was confused because it was just supposed to be about expenses and child support. 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 said she believes Judge Shapiro was frustrated because the hearing took several hours, and attorneys were going to ask for a continuance.
For now, she is relegated to only speaking with her son on the phone.
“I talk to him every day. He cries, he misses me. I send him care packages.”
Fernholz said she hopes an appellate court gets involved this week and reverses Shapiro’s ruling.
“It’s very much exceeding his judicial authority,” she said.
Jeffrey Leving represents the boy’s father, Matthew Duiven, who lives in the South Loop. He said his client, who is vaccinated, will fight his ex-wife’s appeal.
“We support the judge’s decision,” Leving said.
Firlit said she’s confident she will prevail.
“I feel like this will resonate with people because this is how things will go if we don’t speak up. 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,” she said.