How many times have you walked into your local bodega armed with a dollar and a dream, hoping to hit the lottery, feeling suerte on your side? That must be how Pedro Quezada felt when he walked into a Passaic, New Jersey store and purchased a Powerball ticket. Next thing he knew, Quezada won the $338 million jackpot. He was the sole winner of one of the largest lotteries ever. After taxes, Quezada took home approximately $152 million.
But good times turned sour quickly. Quezada shared a residence for ten years, a grocery store business, and a child with his girlfriend, Inez Sanchez. What he did not want to share with her was his money. The couple broke up. Sanchez, through her attorneys, claims she is entitled to a share of Quezada’s winnings because “Quezada purchased the ticket based on the couple’s shared earnings.” She filed a lawsuit demanding her share. Quezada’s attorneys argue that, because the couple was never married, Sanchez is entitled to nothing. Even if she were entitled to some portion, Quezada has already spent a substantial amount of the winnings, with $57 million having been sent to his native Dominican Republic, $5 million given away to friends and family, $300,000 spent on a home in Clifton, and $20 million that cannot be located. (Has anyone checked the sofa cushions?) The case is still being heard before Superior Court Chancery Judge Margaret Mary McVeigh, who refused to dismiss the lawsuit, but also refused to freeze Quezada’s lottery winnings pending the outcome of the case.
The underlying question here is whether anything short of marriage should be legally recognized by the courts. This couple shared a home, a business, and a child for 10 years, yet Sanchez may walk away with nothing. On the other hand, had this couple met yesterday, gotten drunk in Vegas and decided to get married in a moment of spontaneity, without really knowing each other, without sharing a home or assets or children, each spouse would be entitled to a share of the winnings. Should a piece of paper saying “Married” really make that much of a difference? Does marriage still matter?
There are many implications to marriage, some good, some not, but what can be agreed on is that marriage signifies an intention to build a life with someone. Unprotected sex can lead to pregnancy. Financial difficulties can lead to living with someone. But marriage can only be entered into by taking several proactive steps and affirming, both verbally and in writing, that you intend to share your life – and your money – with your spouse.
While I believe in marriage, I certainly don’t think it is the right lifestyle for everyone. There are many wonderful reasons to be single, too. However, if you are going to be with someone for 10 years, have a business together, and raise a child together, you may want to seal the deal. Sometimes all you need is a dollar and a dream . . . and a marriage certificate.