$338M Powerball win shows odds stacked against kids who need child support

New Jersey Powerball winner Pedro Quezada owes $29,000 in child support. Though winning the lottery is a statistical rarity at 1 in 75 million, being a parent with child support back dues is not.  In 2011, 12 percent of Americans were owed child support and did not receive it. 

Eduardo Munoz/Reuters
Pedro Quezada, a New Jersey man, holds a $338 million check above his head March 26. Quezada owes $29,000 in child support.

What are the odds that New Jersey's $338 million Powerball lottery winner and father of five, Pedro Quezada, turns out to be wanted for failure to pay $29,000 in child support? While it was a 1 in 175 million chance of being the only winner of the massive Powerball jackpot, there’s a significantly greater chance of being one of the 11.5 million cases of custodial parents reportedly in need of child support from former a partner who is in arrears.

The Passaic County Sheriff's Office told CNN that an arrest warrant was issued for Quezada in 2009. He has five children ages 5-23 and owes a total of $29,000 in back child support, spokesman William Maer said. It is not clear which children the payments are for. Quezada's son, Casiano, said his father has hired an attorney and is "working through it." 

By owing $29,000, Quezada is just $1,000 away from being part of the top 11 percent of arrears delinquents in child support owed, according to information gathered from the Department of Health and Human Services

In fact, for 13.7 million custodial parents on child support, there are 11.5 million cases of non-custodial delinquency. As of 2011, 12.5 million custodial parents with child support orders are owed more than $100 billion in the United States, according to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Child Support Enforcement. Around 70 percent of arrears owed nationwide is owed by noncustodial parents who have little or no reported income and thus is largely uncollectable, OSCE data shows.

My worry is that Quezada’s win, against all odds, will reinforce the fantasy deadbeat parents may have of winning back a child’s respect and trust after years of non-support. 

Again, CNN reports Quezada’s child support situation came to light after a routine post-win debt check by state officials. The fact that he can now afford to support his child should not be considered a happy ending or an excuse to gamble with dollars that should be given to care for our children.

We have no idea if this father was able to pay and chose not to or if he was a victim of the bad economy, struggling to make ends meet. However, it does make me worry that deadbeat dads will continue to gamble away their money on a 1 in 175 million chance, rather than make payments in meager sums with cash that comes with 100 percent federal backing. 

This is about more than money because support comes in intangible forms too. A dad who isn’t able to pay for his child’s upkeep, but offers even as little as the $2 he might otherwise spend on a lottery ticket, becomes an instant winner to his child. 

On the other hand, a child who frequently sees a parent pumping dollars into a lottery or other form of gambling gets the message “Dad is playing games with my future.” The lottery is after all, advertised as a game, colorful, themed, and non-toxic to society. 

I do not see any of the aforementioned as true in the case of deadbeat parents slapping money on the counter for tickets on the 1 in 175 million chance they might someday win their child back via money. 

Even if a child never sees a deadbeat parent buying a ticket, or laying cash on the table for a bet, the perceived absence of moral support and constant wrangling many endure to try and get that aid from the other parent affects a child’s sense of worth. We’re not talking about buying affection, but rather showing that a child is the priority for that parent. 

As a child of my dad’s second marriage and a part of his second set of kids, I grew up in such a household of scrimping, anger, bitterness, and doubt.   

My mom struggled to support two kids after a divorce from a man who already had two children before that marriage and who never paid child support. I remember him calling, and my mother taking the phone away and telling him he could talk when he had paid. Also, I remember his fury at her transferred to his kids and he'd tell us we “cost too much.” When he didn’t get custody he felt we were “her kids” and thus “her responsibility.” 

I wonder how many children hear those kinds of bitter words, driven by a bad economy and a broken love? My estimate would be even more than 3 in every 25 children.

Nobody’s going to stop selling lottery tickets any time soon, it's not going anywhere. However, parents who are in arrears of child support aren’t going anywhere positive either by buying tickets when $2 could at least be a down payment on a child’s trust and hope. 

We owe it to our children to stop playing the odds by showing them we’re trying our best to take care of them, one dollar at a time.

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