Chicago Woman Lost Custody Because She Was Not Vaccinated
Judges routinely are tasked with the decision whether a child should be vaccinated. When parents can’t agree whether to vaccinate, then a judge will decide the issue. When parents share joint legal custody, they must reach an agreement regarding major medical decisions or alternatively the judge will decide the issue. Such a decision is not made lightly; rather the judge will hear testimony regarding the best interest factors and based on the parties and witnesses’ testimony, the judge will determine what is in the child’s best interest.
A judge can also restrict parenting time between a child and parent when the judge believes the parenting time would not be in the child’s best interest. Again, such a decision should only be made after a thorough review of the custody and parenting time best interest factors.
During a Zoom hearing regarding child support and expenses, an Illinois judge asked a parent, Rebecca Firlit, whether she was vaccinated. When Ms. Firlit told the judge that she had a bad reaction to previous vaccines and for that reason her doctor had advised her not to receive the vaccine. The judge immediately removed Ms. Firlit’s custody and granted custody of the parties’ 11-year-old son to the father. The judge removed all in-person contact between the mother and her 11-year-old. Mom appealed the judge’s decision.
Of course, people may have different opinions whether the mother should be vaccinated. However, what is important to review here is the judge’s failure or refusal to follow the proper process. Ms. Firlit and her attorney said that they were confident that they would prevail on appeal, and we believe that they will. Not necessarily because she will not need to be vaccinated, but because the court failed to follow proper procedure.
Michigan law provides parents with important deadlines, including notice requirements. When a parent receives a motion or petition to change custody or parneting time, they have a right to prepare for the hearing and file a response. Ms. Firlit, albeit her case is in Illinois and not Michigan, did not receive such a notice. Ms. Firlit’s ex-husband never filed a motion or petition to change parenting time, custody, or any kind of request for the mother to be vaccinated.
Second, Michigan law requires a court to hold a hearing during which parents can provide expert testimony why it would be or not be in the child’s best interest for the mother to be vaccinated and to weigh the benefits and harm of a lost relationship between the mother and child versus the health benefits of a vaccinated parent. During such a hearing, a judge may take into consideration that when it demands parents to receive COVID vaccines for parents, then logically, parents will likely also file motions to suspend all parenting time for parents who choose not to receive standard childhood immunizations such as DTP or annual flu immunization.
If you are faced with a vaccine dispute with the other parent or when you are served with a petition or motion regarding a joint legal custody dispute or parenting time modification, call Kraayeveld Law at 616-285-0808. Our attorneys have routinely handled similar disputes and look forward to assisting you as well.