For New Jersey Powerball lottery winner Pedro Quezada, the Dominican bodega owner who just collected $215 million, the adage “Mo’ money, mo’ problems” has already proven true. Just days after winning the fourth largest Powerball jackpot in history, New Jersey authorities say he’s subject to arrest for the $29,000 he owes in back child support.
Funny, I think he’ll be able to catch up. What wasn’t funny is the immediate flood of comments on the Internet saying that Quezeda is a deadbeat father who doesn’t deserve the prize.
First of all, burglaries and a fire impacted his bodega business, so it’s possible that he was in extreme debt. On the day he found out that he won the lottery, he was loath to close the bodega because he didn’t want to lose the business. Second of all, Quezada, who is married, has acknowledged five children so it’s possible that he was in arrears or behind in making payments to children he didn’t live with. Yes, all his children need to be taken care of, but as anyone with children in multiple households can tell you, the priority is usually the ones living with you.
No one is excusing any man or woman who deliberately refuses to pay child support. And it’s hard to do so. If Quezada, a lottery winner, is subject to arrest, then imagine someone who’s just fallen behind and is having trouble keeping up with the payments. The rush to judgment is ludicrous in his situation, since he’s currently in the position not just to pay his outstanding child support but child support until the youngest of the children he has turns 18 or is no longer subject to child support at all. So as far as this one individual is concerned, his debt to his children will soon be resolved.
But why are men demonized, especially men of color, who often don’t have the means to deal with what is becoming a draconian system of child support collection? Men are still largely non-custodial parents and, in some cases, are taken for child support despite the mother’s refusal to work. Men do have rights and child support can be adjusted in situations where income is lost. But as we see in the news daily, the court system is flawed when it comes to justice for men of color and the child support system is no different. Should a man be forced to pay child support for children the mother doesn’t allow him to see? According to the court system, apparently yes. Should a man go to jail when he can’t pay, thus putting himself into a deeper hole as he can’t earn income while incarcerated? In many cases, the courts will say, yes.