When considering the welfare of the children, courts must be informed in order to rule on decisions to determine custody and parenting time. The court’s decision must be based upon credible information submitted to the court; to include interviews and potential testimony of litigants and witnesses.

Typically when thinking of custody we may immediately think “divorce” but there are many circumstances that may warrant representation when taking children’s lives into consideration.

  • Legal separation or divorce
  • Parental Death
  • Parental Incompetence
  • Domestic or sexual abuse allegations
  • Paternity
  • Third party care
  • Child protection services involvement
  • Juvenile Delinquency

Basic Definitions of Custody and Parenting Time

  • Legal Custody is defined as the individual who has the right to make decisions on behalf of the child, including the child’s education, medical care, and even religious preference.
  • Physical Custody is defined as the individual who makes decisions in regard to where the child lives and the child’s daily activities.
  • Sole Custody is when an individual is the primary custodian and decision- maker in every aspect of the child’s life.
  • Joint Legal Custody is defined as a situation where both parents/custodians share in the decision-making for how a child is raised, educated, receives health care and religious preference.
  • Joint Physical Custody refers to the responsibility of the daily care and living arrangement being shared and handled in agreement with both parents/custodians.
  • Parenting Time is commonly referred to as ‘visitation’ granted to noncustodial parent/custodian and usually by court order.

Grandparent’s Rights

Increasing numbers of grandparents are denied visitation to their grandchildren following a divorce. In response, laws have been passed in every state giving grandparents the right to petition the court for visitation in the event of divorce, parental incompetence or parental death. Grandparents may be granted visitation and at times even custody dependent upon the circumstances, if they can prove they share a substantial relationship with the child.

The Visitation Rights Enforcement Act of 1998, improved uniform visitation laws state by state, provisioning grandparent visitation. The law assured grandparents can visit grandchildren anywhere in the United States as long as they have been awarded visitation rights in one state. In a 2000 landmark case Troxel v. Granville the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state of Washington permitting grandparents visitation rights over the objection of the mother. The Supreme Court ruled ‘fit parents have the fundamental right to make decisions concerning care, custody and control’ of their children.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, representing the majority stated, “So long as a parent adequately cares for his or her children, there will normally be no reason for the state to inject itself into the private realm of the family to further question the ability of that parent to make the best decisions concerning the rearing of that parent’s children.” Basically this decision supports in most cases the custodial parents can alone determine visitation for their children.

In any case though, states can grant visitation rights to grandparents. It has encouraged grandparents to attempt to get along and build a supportive relationship with the custodial parent for the benefit of the child.

Child Support and Deadbeat Parent Investigations

Private investigation firms can also assist parents when attempting to enforce a child support order by locating the subject and verify employment, asset searches, and even document if the subject is working off the books by following the individual and document any work activities. This information can be presented to the court to expedite enforcement.
“Whether an individual is concerned for the safety of their children in another custodian’s care or attempting to enforce an order of the court, private investigators can be an invaluable tool in the successful conclusion of a dispute,” says Thomas Lauth, owner of Lauth Investigations International, headquartered in Indianapolics IN. “Hiring a private investigator is even cost-effective when evaluating hiring an attorney to represent the case. After all, utilizing any legal means to ensure the proper care of children is recommended and its value cannot be underestimated.”

Custody Evaluations

Commonly during custody disputes, the court will order a ‘custody evaluation’ that can include an assessment of the child’s emotional, physical, psychological well-being, even who the child prefers to live with. If siblings are involved they heavily consider the benefits of keeping them together and examine the bond the child has with the prospective custodial parent. These evaluations are vital to the decision-making process to make an informed decision consistent with the well-being of the child.

In addition, prospective custodians are also evaluated to include evaluating moral character and psychological stability, financial condition, potential substance abuse, willingness to provide personal care rather than relying on third-parties (relatives, grandparents or friends), if a step-parent may be involved in the care of a child, any suspected abuse or previous allegations of domestics or sexual abuse and many other factors that may be deemed important and could affect a child’s well-being.

When a Private Investigator Can Help Courts Make Informed Decisions

A licensed private investigator can be a vital tool before, during or even after a custody evaluation is conducted. In a case where one parent is concerned for the child’s safety while in the care of the other parent, a private investigator has the ability to document information and behavior of the other party; while in another circumstance a the court may decide custody against one party and information that can be obtained can show just cause for reevaluation. A private investigator can provide organized information on behalf of the client that can be used and admissible in court decisions.

Methods and Information That Can Be Obtained

A private investigator can obtain evidence regarding financial stability, emotional stability, criminal history and any aliases, residential history (moving many times disrupting child’s stability), activity with associates, leaving children unattended, taking the child to a third party while staying at boyfriend/girlfriend’s or excessive partying; any contradictions in information provided to a court evaluator. When contradictions surface it has the potential to discredit the other party.

Private investigators can follow a subject during scheduled visitation times to determine any improper activity or neglect while the child is in their care. They can also follow the subject during their off-time without the child and document daily activities, living conditions, lifestyles, and persons they are associating with.

Private investigators can also conduct interviews with acquaintances and other family members familiar with the behavior of the subject, conduct video and photographic surveillance of the subjects activities, places they frequent, dropping off the children with third parties, conduct background investigations on acquaintances and visitors by obtaining license plate numbers of vehicles that frequent the subject’s residence. Associations can be quite revealing when attempting to validate concerns for a child’s safety.

Trash pulls – When trash container is placed curbside on a trash pickup day it then becomes public property and private investigators are able to obtain and inventory items such as prescription bottles, empty alcohol containers, contraband refuse and paraphernalia related to substance abuse, pornography, financial purchases and transactions are just a few examples of evidence that can be used to present to the court and discredit another party.

Comprehensive Background Investigations Can Include the Following:

  • True Name
  • Aliases
  • True Social Security Number
  • Of Birth
  • Previous 7 Year Residence Verification
  • Previous 7 Year Employer Verification
  • Previous 7 Year Criminal History
  • Previous 7 Year Civil History
  • Driving Record
  • Professional License Verification
  • Tax Liens
  • Education
  • Siblings
  • Bankruptcies
  • Media Confirmation
  • Intensive Internet/Multi Search Engine Investigation
  • Police Incident and Case History Report
  • Verification of Subject’s Personal Conversational Declarations/Comments/Claims
  • Background investigations
  • Criminal history check
  • Civil background check
  • Judgment or property liens
  • Bankruptcy
  • Background checks of associates

Licensed private investigators are able to present findings that can be admissible in court and are also qualified to testify in court on behalf of their client.

About the Author: Kym L. Pasqualini is founder of the Nation’s Missing Children Organization in 1994 and the National Center for Missing Adults in 2000. Kym is an expert in the field of missing persons and continues to advocate for crime victims utilizing 20 years’ experience working with government officials, law enforcement, advocates, private investigators, and national media.