April 26, 2014 • By Dennis Beaver
It was a beautiful spring morning in the California’s southern San Joaquin Valley, a Friday when Maria and her two friends were westbound on Highway 119, headed to their jobs in Taft. All three lived with their families and children in the small town of Wasco-50 miles away.
Saturday would be a very special day indeed, a day filled with laughter, good food and friends, all celebrating a little boy’s birthday, Maria’s son Pedro would be one year old.
But for Maria, there would be no Saturday.
Racing to work, traveling east on that same highway, morning sunshine pouring into her eyes, Susan attempted one too many over-the-double-yellow-lines passing moves.
A week later two profoundly grieving brothers walked into our office, one was little Pedro’s father, Raul.
“We were going to get married”
A lawyer’s office can have the same feeling of an ER. Or of a funeral home.
“I don’t know what to do, what to feel, all I do is cry,” said Raul. “Maria was my entire life. She was only 25 and we were together three years.
“Can you help us, my son and myself?” Asked this father, tears flowing down his face. There was not a dry eye in our office.
With my paralegal, Anne, the four of us just talked with him, about where he came from, his job, how he met Maria. “It was at a dance,” he said with a smile-and a look which for that brief moment, erased the days of profound sorrow. “It was love at first sight, and in no time at all, we were living together.”
“When did you get married?” Anne asked. The answer upset us both.
“When I knew that we were going to become a family, I said that we needed to be married, but Maria told me there was no hurry, to save our money for a big wedding and invite everyone.”
“I have invited everyone, everyone we know, to her funeral, next week,” he replied, breaking down.
“If you get a settlement from the other driver, please do something to arrange for a better future for our son, and something to help me raise him, daycare, something like that,” he tearfully asked.
Yes, we would obtain a settlement, but there was something we dared not tell him that day. He had been through enough.
The consequences of having children and not being married
In most states, the ability to make a claim or file a lawsuit when a loved one is killed, as here, depends on the legal relationship of the parties. Married couples have that right, as do close relatives.
But unmarried couples generally do not.
So, while there would be a very large settlement for their child, nothing would go to the father.
We negotiated a structured settlement, payments starting at age 19. This would provide Pedro with a terrific college education, and substantial amounts of money, across 20 years, to help him with his own family.
These were the things his father wanted, “What Maria would have wanted, a good education and career,” Raul told us.
Then, in the blink of an eye, 18 years passed.
Be careful of who you date and what you tell her
That infant we saw in our office was now a young man, sitting beside the father who never remarried.
“Now, my son will have a better life. I feel Maria’s presence here, today, because of what you did for us so long ago,” he said, crying good tears.
We explained to Pedro the risks of telling anyone that he would be receiving a great deal of money, not to loan a cent and not to go crazy buying things. Above all, to be careful of who he dated and what he told about his past and the structured settlement.
“We care about you, and about your father. Please honor your mother’s memory. This is all she could give you. Don’t waste it. Remember, your mom’s death made all of this possible,” Anne told him, with a great big hug. Now, she was crying.
One year later, Pedro returned to our office with his cute, blonde, pregnant fiancée, Cindy, dollar signs in her eyes.
The $50,000 he had received — for college tuition — instead bought two cars, one for each of them. He was in debt, and was going to cash in the entire settlement! Hearing that, I felt sick.
“So, when are you getting married?” we asked the couple.
“No hurry. Just as soon as we can save for a big wedding and invite everyone,” Cindy replied.
For readers in the same position, if you love each other, and have children, think twice about not getting married. There are no guarantees that Saturday will ever come.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.