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The Use of a Private Investigator in Custody Cases

By Jason K Jensen, Private Investigator

Speaking generally, parties should agree to have a custody evaluation conducted when they are contesting custody rights. The purpose of the custody evaluation will be to provide the court with information it can use to make decisions regarding custody and parenting time arrangements that are in the child’s best interest. This is accomplished by assessing the prospective custodians’ capacity to parent, the developmental, emotional, and physical needs of the child, and the fit between each prospective custodian and child. Unless otherwise specified in the order, evaluators must consider and respond to each of the following factors:

  1. the child’s preference;
  2. the benefit of keeping siblings together;
  3. the relative strength of the child’s bond with one or both of the prospective custodians;
  4. the general interest in continuing previously determined custody arrangements where the child is happy and well adjusted;
  5. factors relating to the prospective custodians’ character or status or their capacity or willingness to function as parents, including:
    1. moral character and emotional stability;
    2. duration and depth of desire for custody;
    3. ability to provide personal rather than surrogate care;
    4. significant impairment of ability to function as a parent through drug abuse, excessive drinking or other causes;
    5. reasons for having relinquished custody in the past;
    6. religious compatibility with the child;
    7. kinship, including in extraordinary circumstances stepparent status;
    8. financial condition; and
    9. evidence of abuse of the subject child, another child, or spouse; and
  6. any other factors deemed important by the evaluator, the parties, or the court.

A private investigator is an effective litigation tool to use before, during or even after parties are interviewed by their court-appointed custody evaluator. One parent may want to obtain evidence to provide the custody evaluator about the other. If known beforehand it can persuade the evaluator well in advance, so that the outcome may be in your favor. In the alternative, if that custody evaluator decides custody against you, getting evidence against the other parent can impeach the other parent, which may result in nullifying the evaluation. When that happens, you either evened the score or you get a whole new evaluation, or the other parent enters into negotiations.

Evidence of alcohol or other drug abuse can be obtained through at least three different methods. One, the private investigator may conduct a trash pull from the other parent’s home on garbage day. The private investigator then will inventory the trash looking for prescription bottles, prescription orders, discarded empty alcohol beverage containers, pot seeds, glass pipes or pieces of pipes, precursors, clean-up materials, disposable gloves, sexual aids and contraceptives, pornography, and any other contraband. A private investigator can conduct interviews of known acquaintances and family members who are familiar with the parent’s drug abuse or alcohol problem. Also, video surveillance can be utilized to catch the parent actually involved in behavior which is consistent with the drug culture.

A private investigator is also very effective to obtain evidence of moral character, emotional stability, financial stability, or other factors. Much like in insurance fraud cases, a scammer will act in his best behavior while in the evaluation process. This is especially true when the parent is in the office of the custody evaluator while being interviewed. Provide evidence that contradicts the story that parent tells the evaluator has the capacity to forever destroy that parents credibility with the evaluator, or the court, or the parent’s own attorney. Nobody backs you up when you are caught lying to an officer of the Court. A private investigator can collect criminal histories of a parent, that you weren’t even aware of. Residential history is also available to a private investigator in a simple database search. Imagine what an evaluator will think when you present evidence that your spouse moved 30 times in the past 10 years, and has had 11 alias. That really happens, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Also, I hate to say it, surveillance is an effective tool to acquire this other evidence. I saw a mother just yesterday rip her infant out of the car seat shouting at the baby. I also had to intervene. I got all choked up worried that this baby was about to become abused right in my presence. I tell you, I would never allow your child to be abused in my presence. Sure I’d video tape all that I could right to the point that harm appeared imminent. I have morals too.

Good luck on your divorce, and no matter what I hope custody is decided on the best interests. I could never say it is in the best interests to all, if the other parent exploited an unfair advantage over the custody evaluator. Together can will work together to make sure it is the most fair process that it can be.

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