Fatherhood Coalition Rallies at Park Square to Protest Court Bias

By D.R. Bahlman, Berkshire Eagle Staff, June 7, 2001

PITTSFIELD -- About a dozen members of the Berkshire chapter of the Fatherhood Coalition gathered at Park Square Wednesday afternoon to heighten public awareness of "widespread discrimination" against men in the state's Probate and Family Court.

The coalition, which is based in Milford, has about 60 members in Berkshire County, said Michael Franco, co-chairman of the statewide organization and its coordinator for Western Massachusetts.

Franco said the coalition organized in Berkshire County several years ago and held its first meetings in the repair bay of a gasoline station in Lee. The group now meets weekly at Berkshire Medical Center.

'Shared parenting' is goal

One of the group's aims is to advance "shared parenting," said Franco, who explained that current law gives judges virtually unlimited discretion concerning the awarding of custody of children. In more than 85 percent of cases, mothers are awarded custody, Franco said, "and some are allowed to move out of state."

A bill under review by a joint legislative committee in Boston would institute shared parenting as a presumption in the law, thus "narrowing judge's discretion" and focusing the proceedings more directly on shared custody.

The coalition also seeks reform of state law concerning the issuance of restraining orders, which the organization argues are too often used as instruments of retaliation against men.

Jeff Bolio of Hinsdale, who attended the rally, said that he believes fathers are not treated fairly in Probate and Family Court. Bolio, who has custody of his daughter, said the Berkshire Probate and Family Court has failed to enforce a child support order against Bolio's ex-wife, who is obligated to pay $29 per week. She hasn't paid support in five years, he said.

"If it was me who wasn't paying, I'd be classified as a deadbeat father and be in jail," he said.

The organization's Web site is

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