Divorce and child custody are polarizing topics in the United States. Divorce itself is an ugly business. Two people who stood in front of their friends and families and promised themselves to another now find themselves in a situation where the life they built together is over. Often it is a storm of heightened emotions, personal crises, mediation, negotiation, carping, and resentment. For many, children sit in the eye of the storm, helplessly witnessing the destruction of their family unit around them. As if this were not tumultuous enough, children often become silent pawns between two parents or caregivers who seek to hurt one another. When developing a strategy for navigating a custody situation, caregivers often do not consider the possibility of hiring a private investigator to help build a credible case for sole or partial custody.
Many couples who are on the brink of divorce, or already treading in the harsh current of proceedings, default to the advice of lawyers, the court system, and child services when it comes to issues of custody. There is a myriad of reasons for this, including a parent’s financial means, work schedule, health issues, and ignorance. What’s problematic about leaving issues of custody in the hands of lawyers and the courts is families in turmoil become files in a drawer. The decisions made on behalf of the legal system often rest on the review of a mountain of paperwork; courts relying on police reports, financial/asset summaries, psychological evaluations, et cetera. What’s on paper becomes the load bearing beam for any decision made regarding custody, because caregivers in conflict are both subject to scrutiny in their statements against the other.
Private investigators have a tool chest similar to that of law enforcement allowing them to document a subject’s movements, behavior, and treatment of their children—both prior to divorce proceedings and after. Members of law enforcement are often the most credible investigators in the eyes of the court. However, unless a criminal act is reported, such as domestic violence or child neglect, law enforcement has little to no involvement in custody cases. Parents without those tools at hand are left with little recourse. Any evidence they document themselves is subject to scrutiny by the courts and by opposing counsel as misrepresented, inaccurate, or downright false. In those cases, those parents trying to build a credible case against their co-parent or caregiver can be maligned as malicious by opposing counsel, and those details may prove to be to their detriment.
The number one advantage of hiring a private investigator to document a questionable parent’s behavior is their ability to move through any environment undetected. Despite the fact a study determined there was an excess of 78,000 private investigators employed in the United States alone in 2017, you’ll never see a good one in the field. Private investigators are trained to blend into the crowd and surveil inconspicuously in order to ensure the subject does not modify their behavior for the benefit of being watched. In addition to hiding in plain sight, part of maintaining success in their profession means staying up to date on the best available surveillance technology on the market in order to gather evidence for their cases. Things like cameras disguised as ink pens, or drones with quiet motors that will not be easily detected. Parents are on their very best behavior when in mediation or appearing before a judge, but private investigators can completely upset the current state of a custody case with evidence they uncover in the field. They can document things like abuse and neglect through photographs, video, audio recordings, witness testimony, and the same examination of vital documents that would be performed by the courts. Their training has equipped them to be on the lookout for things like substance dependency, such as alcoholism, drug addiction, or gambling problems. They can also document the opposing caregiver’s living conditions, whether or not the child is clean and well-fed, and their emotional wellness while in the care of said person. What makes a private investigator a particularly valuable asset is they are an objective third-party. Even if they have in fact been paid by one party in a custody case, misrepresentation of facts on their part may mollify their client in the moment, but will ultimately hurt their integrity with future business. Due to this, private investigators can become unimpeachable witnesses to behavior they’ve seen on the part of the opposing side that would damage the child’s well-being.
Private investigators can take on child custody cases at many different levels, all of which can be beneficial to the parent who wishes to establish a case against another parent or caregiver who they perceive to have questionable integrity. As with any investigation, the sooner the process of documenting and gathering evidence starts, the stronger a foundation the parent will have when they present their case before a judge. Parents who are considering divorcing a co-parent or caregiver and intend to establish a pattern of unfitness should consult a private investigator right away. The subject is more likely to proceed as they would normally prior to news that their partner is taking them to court. While the subject may not suspect they are being legally surveilled during a divorce proceeding, they are aware of the fact that—at a minimum—their behavior and actions during that time will be taken under consideration by the courts. The time to start collecting evidence is before divorce papers are drawn up and served.
However, it’s no mystery circumstances may not allow for this. Events prompting divorce proceedings may be very sudden, allowing no time for a hyper-covert investigation on behalf of the client. Parents who are in abusive relationships may not have access to the financial resources for this kind of initiative. As such, many private investigators enter the case when divorce is already a reality and custody proceedings are in full swing. One of the major criticisms of the court system in custody cases is children are often defaulted to the custody of their mothers, leaving fit fathers or other caregivers with few options. In one such example, an investigator from Indianapolis, IN was hired to investigate the parental fitness of a mother fighting her ex-husband and his parents for custody of their eight-year-old daughter. The child was shuttled back and forth between her mother and father’s respective homes for a few months while family court proceedings moved at a glacial pace. The father became increasingly concerned about his daughter while she was in her mother’s custody, and hired a private investigator to find answers. The investigator uncovered the mother’s place of residence on the record was dilapidated, dirty, and not at all a suitable environment for a child. Additionally, the investigator found the mother’s new husband had a criminal record, regularly used drugs, and had questionable judgement when it came to things like social media interaction and encounters with law enforcement. This led to the father retaining full custody of his daughter, with the mother being allowed only supervised visits. This investigative strategy is a two-way street, meaning that a parent who has been falsely accused of abuse or neglect in order to limit access to their child can hire a private investigator to disprove these claims, document the proper living conditions for the child in question, and secure evidence of malicious intent on behalf of the caregiver making false allegations.
Children should never be used as chess pawns in a messy divorce. Ultimately, any child custody investigation should be about the child’s safety and well-being—not about which parent is righteous in their indignation. A private investigator’s expertise, testimony, and lack of bias can shine a crisp, contextual light on the muddied waters of a child custody case.