Private investigators (often called a “PI”) can be a valuable tool in a divorce or custody case, but they aren’t the silver bullet that people sometimes hope they are. Instead, private investigators can provide pieces of evidence that might be used to help someone prove their case.
What Does a Private Investigator Actually Do?
Real PIs typically don’t do what we see in the movies—they’re usually not uncovering some hidden piece of evidence or hiding in the shadows of a building to catch someone engaging in some egregious act. A PI will typically provide surveillance. They will watch a house to see who is coming and going, put a tracker on a vehicle to see where it goes and for how long, or gather data on how much time a romantic couple is spending with each other. The PI will then compile this data in a format that is easy to use at trial and will testify as to what they personally observed.
For What Kinds of Cases Do You Use a Private Investigator?
Because a PI generally provides surveillance, you would use a PI when you want to track a person’s movements, the time they spend at a given place or see who someone is interacting with.
For example, let’s say Husband was ordered to pay alimony in a divorce but he now believes his Ex-Wife is cohabitating. The Husband can hire a PI to put a tracker on Wife’s vehicle, on her boyfriend’s vehicle, and then see how many nights those vehicles are parked at the same location. The PI can surveil the couple and see if they’re out in public together, buying groceries together, and acting like a normal couple would. This kind of evidence can help prove to the court that cohabitation has occurred and therefore alimony should be terminated.
In another example, Father may be arguing for custody over a child but Mother believes Father is lying about how many hours he’s working and how late he’s working each week. Mother also has a suspicion that Father is leaving the child in the care of his family for extended periods of time rather than watching the child himself. Mother can hire a PI to track how many hours Father is at work and surveil Father to determine if he’s actually caring for the child himself or leaving the child in the care of others. This kind of evidence can help prove to the court that Father hasn’t been providing the one-on-one care he claims to be and that his work schedule doesn’t actually accommodate the kind of custody schedule he’s asking for.
How Long Do I Need to Hire a Private Investigator?
Here’s the lawyer’s answer: it depends. For a cohabitation case, you probably want at least 2 months of data, but you may need more depending on what that data shows. Your attorney can help you determine whether you have the evidence you need. For other types of cases, you may not need nearly that long. We hired a private investigator on one case for a single week; within that week, we were able to prove that Mother was taking the children around a certain criminal the court prohibited them from being around. The ultimate goal is to gather enough data so there is no question as to what you’re trying to prove.
Find a Utah family law attorney with PI experience
The most important thing to remember is that a private investigator is a single tool in a series of tools that can be used to help prove your case. Find an attorney that knows how to litigate complex family law cases and understands how a PI can be used as part of a larger strategy to reach your goals. If you’d like to speak with one of our attorneys about tackling a complex case like this, contact us for a consultation.