Using a Private Investigator for Child Custody, Divorce, and Other Disputes

Child custody cases can be emotionally charged and complex. This is especially true when a child's safety and well-being are at stake. Hiring a private investigator can help by uncovering crucial information for your case. 

The discovery process involves parties sharing documents and other evidence. It is an important step in most legal disputes. Discovery is crucial in family law matters, such as divorce and child custody. Family law attorneys sometimes use private investigators (P.I.s) to gather evidence about the other party.

However, P.I.s must follow specific procedures to ensure the information they gather is accurate and legally admissible. This article discusses private investigators and what you should consider before hiring one.

The Role of a Private Investigator: The Basics

Family law disputes typically involve "they said" arguments that require fact-finding. Attorneys undergo training to identify the most relevant type of information in discovery. But they may turn the fact-finding task over to licensed private investigators. While investigators don't have policing powers, they play a similar role in gathering evidence.

Child custody investigations are specialized services offered by private investigators. The investigations assist parents involved in custody battles. These investigations aim to gather evidence and information about various aspects of the child's life. By conducting thorough investigations, private investigators can uncover critical details. These details might reveal key facts related to parental stability and living conditions. The evidence might also disclose potential risks that could influence custody decisions.

The role of a private investigator varies by the type of dispute and the needs of the case, but P.I.s generally perform the following basic tasks:

  • Collection of Evidence: The P.I.'s main task is to collect evidence. This might mean looking through documents like civil judgments or criminal records, talking to people, or performing surveillance.
  • Surveillance: A P.I. often watches an individual to see where they are going. But they still must operate within the confines of the law. They might watch how the parents interact with their children. The P.I. looks for things that impact the child's safety and emotional well-being. This could include instances of reckless driving or irresponsible actions like criminal activity.
  • Background Checks: Checking a person's professional history, social contacts, credit, criminal history, and other information online will likely be done by a private investigator in the course of their investigation. It may also involve phone calls and interviews. Investigators can delve into drug abuse or alcohol abuse in these background investigations. The investigator may also discover any history of domestic violence.
  • Visitations and Custodial Interactions: Investigators can document interactions between the child and their parents during visitation periods. They can use this to assess the quality of the parent-child relationship.

Investigators can't enter private property without permission. They also may not access records that otherwise would need a subpoena. They may determine the location of bank accounts or other records. But the owner's permission or a court order often is required to access specific information.

How Do I Find a Reputable Private Investigator?

Licensing requirements vary by state. For example, those seeking licensure in California require some legal training or a relevant degree. They must also have real-life investigative experience (i.e., as an apprentice to a licensed P.I.) and complete a background check. They might also have to take an exam in some instances.

It's generally not a good idea to hire an investigator yourself. If the investigator mishandles evidence or is unlicensed, what they produce may not stand in court. Allowing the attorney to hire the P.I. works best. Attorneys forge relationships with trusted private investigators. This helps ensure compliance with licensing requirements and proper techniques for handling evidence.

Using a Private Investigator for Divorce

All states now allow no-fault divorce. However, some states, like Alabama, still allow "fault" grounds for divorce, such as infidelity or spousal abuse. But they must have evidence to prove such grounds, which may provide an advantage for the filing party.

Private investigators are often able to prove infidelity. Or they may uncover activities and expenditures suggesting an affair. They do this through surveillance of the party. P.I.s will monitor social media activity and access records of purchases, such as undisclosed hotel expenditures. A P.I. also may use strategies to "catch" parties in the act. This may force a confession from the offending party.

A private investigator can help find assets (and liabilities, such as debt). This may be relevant when determining property division, child support, and spousal support. It's not uncommon for parties to attempt to hide assets once they believe divorce is imminent. This may be particularly relevant when one party manages the finances.

A P.I. can often find hidden assets by searching through various databases. For example, they might use the Secretary of State or Securities and Exchange filings. Certain documents may reveal questionable transactions. This discovery may suggest that a party off-loaded property for free or at a discount to reclaim it later. Also, there may be evidence of requesting a delay in payment of a bonus until finalization of the divorce.

Using a Private Investigator for Child Custody and Visitation

Child custody determinations are generally made with the child's best interests in mind. Child custody cases revolve around the best interests of the child. Engaging a private investigator can help parents gather objective and reliable evidence.

In some cases, using a P.I. for child custody disputes can reveal whether a parent can provide a stable home environment for the child. In other cases, there may be concerns about child abuse or drug use by a parent (which would be relevant for visitation determinations).

Investigators provide detailed reports, photographs, videos, and other evidence for family court. This evidence can strengthen one's case for sole custody. The evidence can also be used in negotiations for joint legal custody or joint physical custody arrangements.

Investigators have various tools and methods to help with custody cases. This may include gathering witness statements, background checks, and surveillance. After the court awards custody of your child, P.I.s can provide evidence of custody or visitation agreement violations.

By hiring a private child custody investigator, parents gain peace of mind. They know that a trained professional is working to protect their child's interests. Private investigators can gather information that law enforcement agencies may need more resources to focus on. Their findings can significantly impact custody decisions. They can provide parents with the necessary evidence to ensure the safety and well-being of their children.

Get Legal Assistance With Your Divorce or Custody Dispute

Using a private investigator for child custody, divorce, or other family law-related matters is often a good idea. Going through a legal professional is best if you choose this route. A private investigator can gather evidence to strengthen your case. Remember that the child's best interests are always at the heart of any child custody case.

In addition to hiring a private detective, it is often beneficial to engage the services of an experienced family law attorney to help with your custody case. They can help you obtain custody of the child. They can advise you on the different types of child custody. They can also discuss visitation rights with you and recommend investigation services. Start your case today by contacting an experienced family law attorney near you.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Both parents can seek custody of their children — with or without an attorney
  • An attorney can help get the custody and visitation agreement you want
  • An attorney will advocate for your rights as a parent

A lawyer can help protect your rights and your children's best interests. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

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Don't Forget About Estate Planning

Once new child custody arrangements are in place, it’s an ideal time to create or change your estate planning forms. Take the time to add new beneficiaries to your will and name a guardian for any minor children. Consider creating a financial power of attorney so your agent can pay bills and provide for your children. A health care directive explains your health care decisions and takes the decision-making burden off your children when they become adults.

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