The Role of Private Investigators
Parties to a divorce sometimes decide to hire a private investigator (PI) to document marital misconduct, such infidelity, dissipation of assets, and fraud. However, PI’s are generally not used in custody disputes, because misconduct is often not relevant to the issue of custody. To be relevant to custody, the conduct must relate tangibly to the quality of one’s parenting. Nonetheless, there are occasions where a PI is useful in a custody dispute.
Substance abuse, for instance, may be one occasion where hiring a PI may be helpful. If alcoholism is alleged, it is necessary to observe the amount of alcohol consumed and to note whether the parent drives while intoxicated. This isn’t as difficult as it sounds. If the mom goes to a bar, the PI simply follows her, observes, and takes notes. He can thereafter follow the vehicle and later testify not only to seeing the quantity of alcohol consumed, but also to the manner in which the vehicle is driven. He may contact law enforcement officials if the alcohol consumption is substantial.
Also, where it is alleged that mom is not in caring for children in her custody, a PI can document the evenings she goes out and whether the children are left alone. Videotape can also quickly expose a mom who claims that she cannot work because of physical limitations.
A mom’s boyfriend may be relevant to custody if he consumes much of her time or if he is “a bad guy,” especially if mom concedes that her relationship with the boyfriend is serious (believe it or not, this is commonly admitted). In this case, a PI can investigate the boyfriend to find out whether he is also divorced and, if so, whether the allegations his wife made in their divorce had any factual basis. The PI might also have his police record checked.
In considering hiring a PI, you must be able to prescribe as narrowly as possible the time the PI is to be on the job. Remember, his meter is running at a rate of $40-$60 per hour. Therefore, you need to identify windows of time during which the conduct you suspect will occur. There may be some things the PI can do for you on a project basis for a fixed fee. These include checking driving records, police records, or locating addresses.
This online custody guide is adapted with permission from “Civil War: A Dad’s Guide to Custody” (266 pages, softcover) – available in our online store.