In domestic cases, information is a very valuable commodity. Ensuring that your attorney has as much information as necessary is essential to him/her effectively representing you. That information is sometimes difficult to notice simply from reviews of bank statements, phone bills or from other discovery methods. If your spouse is attempting to hide essential facts from the court, it is very unlikely that a Perry Mason moment will occur and they will blurt out the truth during their testimony.
In cases where one spouse is secretive about their activities, assets, associations or employment, it may become necessary for a spouse or parent to hire a private investigator to obtain information. Before selecting a private investigator, talk with your attorney and decide what type of work needs to be performed. Then find a private investigator company that primarily practices in that specific area. If you need asset checks or computer investigations, you would be better served by someone with experience in that area rather than someone who “dabbles” in that area. If you need someone to perform surveillance, you certainly need to ensure that your investigator has performed surveillance in the past, has the experience to perform surveillance and has the assets necessary to perform surveillance of your target.
Private investigators have many tools at their disposal to secure the information you need. The use of GPS (Global Positioning System) has become a common tool when tracking a target. The units are placed in or on automobiles and used to track a target’s movements throughout a day, week or month. If you have suspicions about your spouse, having a GPS installed on his/her vehicle could give you the information you need about his/her activities or the peace of mind that he/she is not doing something unseemly. Ensure that your investigator has these GPS units available, has the knowledge to use and interpret the data provided and, given the constant improvement in these devices, ensure that your investigator has invested in the newest versions of these devices.
Another burgeoning area where the use of investigators has increased is in computer forensics. The use of computer forensics has grown from being solely the domain of law enforcement agencies to becoming a common tool in domestic cases. Private investigators in North Carolina who are trained and have the experience to interpret the data obtained from a computer can be an invaluable resource in your case. When performing computer forensics, the investigator makes a ‘mirror-image’ of the computer hard-drive and then interprets the data. A computer forensics examination can find deleted emails, determine what websites your spouse frequents, determine who your spouse has been communicating with and what they were talking about, discover accounts which your spouse has not disclosed and often times discover compromising pictures or videos of your spouse and his/her friends and other acquaintances.
In the context of a domestic case, the information a private investigator discovers could pay dividends in your case. If you are the higher income-earning spouse and your spouse is having an extramarital affair prior to the date of separation, it is possible that you would not be obligated to pay alimony. If you are already paying alimony and your ex-spouse is cohabitating with someone, there are circumstances when that cohabitation may allow your alimony payments to cease. If your children’s other parent is spending his/her time partying, staying out late, and generally neglecting the children rather than using his/her custodial time with the children for the children’s benefit, having an investigator documenting these actions could secure you a custody agreement or court order which is better for your children. If your children’s other parent claims he has no income, but he/she spends his/her days working under the table, participates in activities which take a substantial investment of cash, or is spending his weekends on his/her new boat, this information would be invaluable at a hearing on his child support obligation.
Beware of any company which provides computer surveillance programs that suggests you can “do it yourself.” There are numerous computer programs available that allow you to track your spouse’s activities on-line, intercept emails, monitor web pages, and intercept passwords. There are Federal and State laws which make these activities criminal and could subject you to both civil penalties and criminal prosecution. There is no defense of “I thought my spouse was cheating on me.” In addition, once the email account security is compromised, your spouse could simply state that he/she did not have sole control over the account and therefore did not realize the activity was occurring.
In North Carolina, the private investigator industry is governed by rules set forth by the North Carolina Private Protection Services Board. Each private investigator is required to obtain a license or a trainee designation prior to engaging the services of a client. Prior to entering into a contract with a private investigator, ensure that the person or company you hire is licensed to practice in North Carolina.
Lastly, if you are going to invest in a private investigator ensure that your investigator is able and willing to testify in court if that becomes necessary. Your information is useless if no one can tell the Court what has occurred or interpret the data in a manner which is acceptable to the Court. If you are in need of a private investigator, contact an attorney and discuss your options with him/her. They may also have contacts with investigators in your area.
By J.P. McNeil, revised 2013
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