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Fatherhood Coalition protests sentencing

By Donna Roberts, North Adams Transcript, Thursday, Nov. 15

North Adams -- Local and national members from the Fatherhood Coalition came together in Cambridge Tuesday morning to protest what they consider an unfair sentencing of one of their members for non-payment of a "manufactured" child support arrearage.

According to the coalition, John Flaherty, one of the original founders of the organization, was incarcerated for 150 days by a family court judge, Beverly Boorstein, for being unable to pay $10,000 in back payments for child support. Flaherty said he was denied a trial by jury, where he said he would have been able to disprove the charges.

Mike Charalambous, spokesman for the coalition, said the judge failed to issue findings, and as a result, Flaherty was able to obtain his release within hours by gaining a temporary stay of execution from the State Appeals Court. But once the judge produced findings to support her decision three weeks later, Flaherty was ordered to turn himself in, which he did.

According to Michael Franco, Western Massachusetts coordinator for the group, about eight people from the area attended the protest at 8:30 a.m. yesterday. He said overall, about 40 people attended it throughout the day, including a couple women.

Franco said the protest was held because the organization believed there was a blatant sexual discrimination against Flaherty, as well as other fathers in his situation. He said the protesters had a definite presence outside the courthouse.

He said he also believed protests like these represent a "new generation of fathers."

"We're a group of men who want to be involved with our children," he said. "We don't want to be viewed as just bank accounts."

Rinaldo Del Gallo III, of Pittsfield, chairman of the Berkshire Fatherhood Coalition, said in many cases it was virtually impossible to pay the amount of child support allocated by the legal system.

Del Gallo said many child support cases come down to what is known as "imputed income," where the courts literally "pretend" the father makes more money than he does, which is factored into the final amount required for child support.

"Many of the large amounts you see published anywhere are because of the courts using imputed income," he said. "It's impoverishing men."

According to Del Gallo, there are two main theories as to how child support should be constituted among the disputing parties. One is called the incremental approach, where the cost of the child is taken above and beyond the normal price to pay, and divided by two. The second is referred to as the welfare/ lifestyle approach, where the derived price usually goes to pay for other bills and household necessities, not just the child's well-being.

The most frustrating part of the divorce process for Del Gallo, though, is the predicament Flaherty is currently undergoing.

"The biggest problem is not being able to have a jury trial for this," he said. "They call it a civil trial. At least criminals get to have the 'beyond a reasonable doubt' clause."

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