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Debtor's Prison is Alive and Well

More Should Go to Jail in Protest

By Mark Charalambous, Massachusetts News, December 21, 2001

Those concerned with the civil liberty implications of war tribunals should refocus their attention to matters judicial closer to home. New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis decries the potential for panels of as few as three jurists who have been empowered to determine life and death.

But in our family courts, a single justice acts as judge, jury, and executioner in matters that, while not usually as final, can often be perceived as worse than death for those on the losing side.

John Flaherty, citizen, father and law-abiding physics professor, presently receives his mail at the Plymouth County House of Correction where he is serving a five-month sentence for contempt of court.

Middlesex Probate & Family Court Judge Beverly Boorstein sentenced him for refusing to pay an alleged child support arrearage, which supposedly goes back six years but was manufactured at a hearing just several months ago.

Apparently we have become desensitized to incarcerating men in what should rightfully be called "debtor's prison." Indeed, the ending of debtor's prison can be considered a milestone on humanity's path to the free society. But debtor's prison is alive and well, functioning on a daily basis in our nation's divorce courts, which have become virtual feminist tribunals prosecuting fathers for crimes of "the patriarchy."

Jailed Without Trial

John Flaherty was sentenced to jail October 1 without a trial. Judge Boorstein didn't even bother to write a Finding of Fact. But Flaherty is not your average non-custodial father. Since the legal travails ensuing from the breakdown of his marriage began, he has made a second career out of learning the law and teaching other non-custodial fathers how to defend themselves. Without the "Finding," he was able to forestall the jail sentence for several weeks until Boorstein complied with an Appeals court order to produce "detailed findings."

Such is the brazen attitude of judges who don't even bother to provide the appearance of due process in their prosecution of fathers, until forced to do so.

The Flaherty case docket is not for the timid. It has more twists and turns than a David Mamet thriller. Though he is confident that his appeal of the sentence will succeed, that trial won't come before the expiration of his sentence. Unlike defendants for other crimes who are typically freed on probation before the full sentence is completed, Flaherty expects to serve the full five months. Non-payment of child support, like the absurd "no-contact" violations of domestic abuse protection orders, is a gender crime.

Because of the feminization of the courts, such "crimes" are treated more seriously than conventional ones.

For robbery, aggravated assault, homicide, and perhaps even flying airplanes into buildings, defendants are assumed innocent until proven guilty, provided legal counsel at taxpayer expense, and given every consideration to guarantee that their civil rights aren't violated in the process of ascertaining their guilt. Non-custodial fathers should be so lucky.

Worse Than Racial Profiling

Before September 11, the hottest issue for the self-appointed social-justice watchdogs was racial profiling. Completely ignored is the far more pervasive and institutionalized gender-profiling in the application of domestic relations law. But those of the chattering class only recognize injustice where it's politically correct to do so.

Parents who fail to comply with a court order are held to two different standards based solely on their sex. Women are not jailed for domestic transgressions -- men are.

In identical situations, justice takes a predictably different course for female defendants. Can anyone conceive of a father who murdered his five children being afforded sympathy from any quarter, as has Andrea Yates from the National Organization of Women?

Three decades of feminization have so warped our expectations that no one blinks an eye when judges turn to female plaintiffs in child support cases and actually ask them if they want their ex-husbands jailed.

But regardless of the corruption of justice in divorce courts, what about the ethical questions of non-payment of child support? Is it appropriate to jail non-custodial parents for willful failure to pay?

Perhaps reasonable people can disagree on what to do with fathers who intentionally abandon their children. But when we are considering involved, loving fathers who raised and provided for their children when the family was intact and wish to continue having a meaningful parental relationship with their children, we need a reality check.

The idea that such fathers should have their children forcibly taken away from them, often with access to them severely restricted or terminated, as well as being criminalized in the process, and that they should then be forced to pay exorbitant amounts of so-called "child support" to the mother, is simply perverse.

The Massachusetts Child Support Guideline provides for the highest awards in the nation. Under the Guideline, child support has become an entitlement for women -- an incentive for single motherhood. The Guideline provides for up to 40% of the non-custodial father's gross income to be transferred to the mother with not a shred of accountability, not from the mother nor from the Department of Revenue, which now attaches wages by default.

More Fathers Should Go to Jail

Everyone knows some poor guy who is paying a ridiculous amount of money each week to some woman who doesn't even let him see his children. The child support regime in Massachusetts is responsible for much injustice and suffering, all done in "the best interests of the children."

Whose best interests are really served when women turn their children against their fathers, while bleeding them for every penny they can milk out of them? Do the children benefit? And what message is being delivered to these children?

Girls are being taught that men can be easily manipulated with the complicity of the government.

And what's the message for boys? Considering their reeducation by feminists (of both sexes) in the classroom to disdain their own masculinity, it should come as no surprise that what they see happening to their fathers serves as a powerful lesson in their emasculation.

Fathers who believe that they are doing the right thing by abiding by their outrageous child support orders are not helping their children. They are validating the government bean-counters' definition of "fatherhood," which promotes single-parent maternal households -- the most dangerous environment for children. It causes the destruction of the father-child relationship and ultimately undermines the biological nuclear family itself. This harms not only their own children, but also all children and by extension society.

It is not only acceptable for non-custodial fathers to follow Flaherty's example and resist the child support regime even at the expense of their own freedom, it is their true child support obligation.


Mark Charalambous is one of the founders of the Fatherhood Coalition.

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