Many people are wondering whether you can lose custody rights for not taking the COVID-19 vaccination following news that a Chicago mother lost her visitation rights after she answered a family law judge’s question on the matter . . . incorrectly.
Baby, What a Big Surprise
The mother, Rebecca Firlit, has been divorced for seven years and sharing custody of their child. She has an 11-year-old son who she regularly timeshares with. Earlier this month, Cook County Judge James Shapiro prohibited Firlit from timesharing with her son.
The vaccination issue was not raised by her ex-husband. Instead, 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,” Ferlit told the Chicago Sun-Times.
According to some reports the mother would not stop overtalking other people. She was upset and yelling, and he muted her after she wouldn’t stop, adding that she later unmuted herself, and the judge temporarily placed her in a Zoom waiting room.
A 39-year-old desk clerk, Ferlit 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. 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.” Her attorney said she hopes an appellate court gets involved this week and reverses Shapiro’s ruling.
In Florida, the prevailing standard for determining “custody” is a concept call shared parental responsibility, or sole parental responsibility. Generally, shared parental responsibility is a relationship ordered by a court in which both parents retain their full parental rights and responsibilities.
Under shared parental responsibility, parents are required to confer with each other and jointly make major decisions affecting the welfare of their child. In Florida, shared parental responsibility is the preferred relationship between parents when a marriage or a relationship ends. In fact, courts are instructed to order parents to share parental responsibility of a child unless it would be detrimental to the child.
Issues relating to a child’s physical health and medical treatment, including the decision to vaccinate, are major decisions affecting the welfare of a child. When parents cannot agree, the dispute is resolved in court.
At the trial, the test applied is the best interests of the child. Determining the best interests of a child is no longer entirely subjective. Instead, the decision is based on an evaluation of certain factors affecting the welfare and interests of the child and the circumstances of the child’s family.
I wrote an article on the relationship between vaccinations and child custody in Florida before. In Florida, a court can carve out an exception to shared parental responsibility, giving one parent “ultimate authority” to make decisions, such as the responsibility for deciding on vaccinations. The Chicago case, however, involves a parent’s refusal to vaccinate herself.
The decision to vaccinate raises interesting family law issues. It is important to know what your rights and responsibilities are in Florida and other states.
Make Me Smile
Jeffrey Leving represents the boy’s father, Matthew Duiven, who lives in the South Loop. In an incredibly unbiased and unsurprising statement, the father’s lawyer said:
“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. We support the judge’s decision”
In recent weeks, debates have raged about necessary protocols to prevent transmission of COVID-19 as students throughout the country prepare to return to in-person school. While some states have mandated wearing masks in schools, others, such as here in Florida, have banned mask mandates, which the governor says protects parents’ freedom to choose whether their children wear masks.
After entering an order sua sponte to suspend a parent’s visitation rights until she received the COVID-19 vaccine, the Cook County family law judge revisited the issue with a new order striking the restriction.
The Chicago Sun Times article is here.