Should I Hire a Private Investigator?
Many people ask me if they should hire a private investigator for their family law case. Here are the top three things to consider when deciding if the cost is worth the return.
What am I Trying to Prove?
No fault divorce has eliminated the need for surveillance in most cases. In Ohio, adultery is almost never the grounds for divorce unless one party does not answer or appear. Private investigators now have the most use in parenting cases.
Two examples of a good use of private investigators are to prove alcohol abuse or child neglect such as leaving children home alone. It may be useful to have a private investigator conduct public records searches. The worst possible use of a private investigator is simply to “tail” the other party with no specific instructions about what to look for. Most private investigators are happy to drive around at an hourly rate looking for anything useful. I have never recommended such an open-ended arrangement.
Can I Get the Information I Want Any Other Way?
Discovery is the usual way to get information in a civil case. Discovery includes an exchange of documents, identification of accounts and depositions where a party must answer questions about just about anything under oath. Social media, cell phone records, loan applications, leases and utility accounts can point the way to a trough of tasty tidbits. If the case is truly headed for trial, nothing can replace witness interviews. These can usually be done by a paralegal for less cost than a private investigator. At some point, the lawyer handling the trial will want to speak directly with witnesses. It is important to do this task as few times as possible.
If the choice boils down to a private investigator or using home-made surveillance, such as taps on telephones and rigged cameras at home, the best choice is always the private investigator.
Does the Information Justify the Stigma of Using a Private Investigator?
In parenting cases, it is important to consider the image you are giving to the judge. Cases involving private investigators are usually the cases most hotly contested and the perception can easily be given that a client wants to win at any cost. Additionally, private investigators are not used as often as they were in the ’70s. The presence of a private investigator may signal to the other side that the lawyer is caught in past practices and is not otherwise current.
I have had exactly one case is more than twenty years where the use of a private investigator revealed critical information. The issue was parenting time with a father accused of alcohol abuse. We successfully had a private investigator film the father purchasing alcohol, drinking the alcohol, all while driving with the seven-year-old in the car. One view of the tape was all it took to settle the case for supervised parenting. I have used this particular story and this particular investigator ever since.
It seems like you have really accomplished something when you sic a private investigator on your spouse. to uncover dirt. In reality, it is probably a huge waste of time and money. If it’s the thought that counts, though, it may just be worth it.