SHOULD I HIRE A PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR?
Celebrities do it. Society mavens do it. High-profile athletes do it. According to media reports Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs allegedly did it for some time. So, you might ask yourself the question, “why shouldn’t I hire a private investigator?”
Perhaps you should, but hiring a private eye is a decision that must be made deliberately and strategically – not in the heat of the moment or when you are alone and emotionally upset at a situation.
So, what can a PI do for me and what can they not do?
A private investigator can gather information for you and conduct surveillance legally if necessary. Often, if the information is relevant, the PI will be able to testify in court. This testimony will likely be more credible and hold up better during interrogation than that of friends and family who might be biased or repeating hearsay.
A licensed investigator is also cognizant of the laws of your state and will know which methods and tools he/she can legally use for surveillance so that the evidence submitted is admissible in court.
A trained private investigator is also skilled at interviewing witnesses and is capable of extracting information from people that could either make or break your case.
But you should be aware that, even though private investigators have access to tools and information that the general public does not have, they must obey the same laws as ordinary citizens.
There are some limitations
They are not allowed to wiretap, obtain cell phone records via pre-texting, or pose as a law enforcement officers. There are laws that limit or prohibit surveillance of computers, and there are restrictions on how certain private financial information can be obtained.
In some states, it is forbidden to track a vehicle with a GPS device without the owner’s permission or to take photographs in an area where people have a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”
To hire or not to hire – that is the question
The reasons that clients feel compelled to hire a private investigator are numerous and varied. However, in the family law venue, they usually concern the following issues:
- Infidelity – The function of a private investigator to prove infidelity in a divorce has become somewhat inconsequential because of the passage of no-fault divorce laws in many states. (In other words, the court just isn’t that interested in your dirty laundry.) However, occasionally clients will pursue an investigation only to find out if their suspicions of a cheating spouse are true and whether or not they have a good reason to file for divorce.
However, infidelity also plays a big role in determining alimony and whether or not a party actually gets paid alimony. You should talk to your attorney about this as it’s very important. If you don’t have an attorney you can contact one of these fine attorneys who will be more than happy to assist you.
- Hidden assets – Sometimes a spouse who is anticipating separation will hide material assets such as bank accounts, stock accounts, property or valuable items. The more wealth a spouse has, the more likely it is that he/she has had the opportunity to separate financial accounts. A private investigator has more likelihood of uncovering such hidden assets because he has access to records and databases that aren’t readily available to other people.
- Past history – Criminal history, debts, previous divorces, lawsuits – all could be valuable information in divorce actions and in any lawsuit where you need to know the background history of an individual or corporation. Private investigators have access to specialized databases that reveal the most intimate details about people and companies. It’s amazing what they can uncover.
- Child custody – Private investigators can be very effective at providing evidentiary discovery in order to prove child abuse, neglect, parental addiction, or inappropriate behavior by the other parent. In child support cases, they can also track down people who are lying about their income.
Often, in child custody cases one parent simply “dumps” the children at a grandparent’s house while they’re supposed to be spending time with their kids. This is not the true purpose of custody and the courts frown upon this kind of behavior. Private investigators document this type of behavior frequently and testify about it in court.
- Eavesdropping detection investigations – Bugging a business is a reality in our high-tech environment. Devices can be purchased online at auction sites for just a few dollars that make very effective bugging devices and are tiny so they can be easily hidden.
- Birthparent location – Were you adopted? Private Investigators can search through records using either specialized databases or by putting “boots on the ground” to manually search archives. Reuniting families is a very rewarding process for private investigators.
- Child abduction by a parent – It happens. A parent decides to abscond or run away with a child and tries to prevent the other parent from having any contact. These are dangerous cases that private investigators specialize in. Sometimes, the runaway goes overseas and a private investigator can then reach out to an international network to assist in locating them.
Why would I not hire a PI?
Well, there are many reasons. For one, hiring a PI can make your legal case more adversarial.
However, the biggest disadvantage you will face is simply the expense. The typical rate for an investigator ranges from $75 to $325 per hour with a mileage fee of approximately 75 cents per mile. It’s not always possible to determine just how long a case will take and you may not be able to get a total fee quoted, but every agency should be able to give you an hourly rate and a reasonable estimate of how many hours of billing time your particular issue should require.
Some investigators require a retainer to be applied against fees for services rendered. Be advised that in some states, if the evidence that the investigator presents to the court is relevant to your case, you can ask the judge to make your spouse pay part or all of the cost. This is entirely up to the courts and is not guaranteed. You should ask your attorney about this.
Should I hire a private investigator—yes or no?
Let me make it as simple as I can – don’t ever try to conduct an investigation on your own.
There are too many pitfalls involved – from inadvertently tipping off the other party to conducting some form of surveillance that you didn’t realize was illegal. You can’t tap a phone, even if you own it. You can’t record someone you’re not in a conversation with. These are felonies and if you’re caught, you’ll go to jail. And what’s worse is any evidence you obtain by illegal means can’t be used in a court of law. You’ve wasted your time and possibly have a record now because you didn’t hire a professional.
If you want to employ a private investigator, discuss it with your attorney first. They will advise you, and if you decide to pursue such action, they will work with you and the investigator to gather information that is relevant and admissible in court.
In addition, an attorney can often refer you to a licensed investigator that they have worked with successfully in the past.
A strategic plan between you, your attorney, and the investigator will ensure that an investigation will be beneficial and cost effective. Please be advised that sometimes an investigation proves to be highly successful and worth every penny spent, and sometimes it doesn’t benefit a case at all. There are no guarantees on results, unfortunately.
Hire a professional.