Private Investigators are typically detectives or inquiry agents who have been hired to conduct investigatory work. They have a long history of working with attorneys to gather necessary information for family law proceedings. While the information that they gather is typically considered more circumstantial than direct evidence, they can be really helpful for a variety of reasons. For example, in cases involving extramarital affairs, Private Investigators are there to capture a cheating spouse and paramour in a clandestine embrace. Private Investigators can also be helpful in child custody proceedings to illuminate harmful characteristics of a particular parent, thereby assisting the court in determining the best interest of the child. Overall, Private Investigators can enhance your case by revealing some of the most intimate moments that are discreetly being hidden by the adversarial party.

Should I Hire a Private Investigator before Consulting My Attorney?

The short answer to this question is No. Often, clients believe they are being resourceful by hiring a Private Investigator and gathering evidence prior to consulting and retaining counsel. However, when a client hires a Private Investigator prior to retaining counsel, they could forfeit some very important legal protections. For example, materials created in preparation for trial by the attorney could be considered “attorney work product.” The benefit of work product is that this evidence receives a very high level of protection by the court, and could ultimately be protected from discovery by the opposing party. Attorney work product could provide negotiating leverage and ultimately a more favorable outcome for you. Please make sure that you consult your attorney if you are interested in hiring a Private Investigator, as they will be able to hire, or at least recommend, Private Investigators who will carefully gather evidence in accordance with North Carolina laws. You will need someone who can not only provide very detailed reports, but someone who can contribute to your attorney’s theory of the case and will help the attorney present a thorough case in court. Let your attorney hire the Private Investigator, your case will thank you later.

Why Can’t I Just Gather My Own Evidence?

A client is welcomed to gather and present any evidence that will help their case to their attorney. However, if the matter is litigated, the evidence collected by the Private Investigator is much more likely to be admissible in the case. This is likely attributed to the fact that the evidence has been gathered with the guidance and direction of an attorney who is knowledgeable concerning the rules of evidence. An attorney wishes to be as fiscally conservative as possible. If evidence is collected incorrectly, and the judge disallows the evidence to be presented in court because it wasn’t obtained legally, it becomes a waste of the client’s money. This waste of resources includes the time and resources by the investigator, who will still expect payment, and the legal fees paid to the attorney for reviewing and presenting faulty evidence to the court. Your attorney is not only concerned with the dissolution of your case; they are also concerned with your resources and ensuring that all evidence collected meets the legal technical requirements to ensure a favorable outcome for you. Not every case requires a Private Investigator, so you should consult your attorney to determine if this is the proper path for your case.

What else do Private Investigators do?

Private Investigators are so much more than stalkers following adulterous spouses. They have proven themselves to be very valuable in child custody proceedings as well. Private Investigators can record reckless behaviors of parents who consume illegal drug substances; parents who drink and drive with children in the car; and parents who physically assault their children beyond the confides of North Carolina law. They can even survey the premises to determine if the parent is complying with court orders. Private Investigators have also proven valuable in alimony proceedings. In accordance with North Carolina law, a spouse can lose their alimony payments in instances of cohabitation with another individual. Cohabitation, like adultery, requires circumstantial evidence of the actions. A Private Investigator may be instrumental in proving that a spouse is cohabitating with another individual while reaping the benefits of monetary support from their past spouse.

Can I Hire My Friend to Gather the Information Instead?

Most clients us have that one friend who they believe should work for the FBI or the CIA because they are great at investigating and getting to the bottom of everything. This is the friend who always catches his/her spouse cheating by doing private-eye investigations themselves. However, having an amateur conduct a legal investigation could indeed be disastrous for you. For example, wiretapping your spouse’s phone calls is not a good idea. Wiretapping is illegal, and your participation in the illegal activities of your friend could lead to criminal charges for both of you. Both the federal law and state law prohibit wiretapping, and this mistake could lead to trespassing and harassment charges that you do not need. No matter how savvy your friend is, there is always a strong possibility that he/she could blow your case by tipping your spouse off that they are being followed. This costly mistake could make it impossible for you to gather the evidence necessary to prove your case of infidelity, abuse, or neglect. Even if the friend does not violate North Carolina law, it could also make it more costly in the event that you hire a Private Investigator. Once the spouse learns that they are being followed, they will undergo extra precautions to conceal their illicit activity. This in turn could cost additional funds for the Private Investigator to follow them and get legally obtained evidence that will help your case.  If you have questions, consult your attorney. There are laws that seem simple, but failing to adhere to them could cost you everything.

When Should I Hire a Private Investigator?

The first step in hiring a Private Investigator is speaking with an attorney. An attorney will determine whether a Private Investigator is even worth your hassle. For example, there are times when even the best evidence collected by a Private Investigator will not be helpful in a divorce proceeding. If the adulterous spouse does not make enough money to be considered the supporting spouse for purposes of alimony, then proving adultery may not be necessary evidence to present to the court. There are clients who wish to hire Private Investigators for an emotional reason, which is understandable, but you must understand that emotional responses are not always justifiable legally. If you are willing to take the financial risk, it is perfectly acceptable to hire a Private Investigator and decide not to use the information. The key is to ensure that you consult your attorney to ensure that you are doing what is best for your case

I Told My Best Friend that I’m Hiring a Private Investigator

Statistics have often shown that spouses cheat with close members of the family. While this is not always true, the unfortunate truth is your best friend could be part of the affair. Because of these facts, attorneys and Private Investigators strongly encourage clients not to disclose to anyone that they even have suspicions regarding their spouse’s infidelity. While your love life may make for a soap opera, it is not a story that you should tell your friends and family. What would you do if your mother accidentally said something about it to a third party, who then relayed that information to your spouse? What would you do if your best friend is your husband or your wife’s lover, and they are able to assist your spouse in covering his/her tracks? Talking to anyone outside of your attorney is risky, and just another form of tipping your spouse off that you want to avoid at all costs. If you think that your spouse is being unfaithful, consult an attorney. You can confide in them, but confiding in your family and friends could make it nearly impossible to gather any evidence to assist in a court proceeding.

The Bottom Line

A Private Investigator can be extremely helpful if [1] the client contacts counsel prior to hiring the investigator; [2] the client refrains from communicating their plans with others (including family members and friends; [3] the client allows the Private Investigator to thoroughly do their job without interference from third parties, like friends; and most importantly [4] if the client is honest with the investigator about the situation at hand.  Private Investigators are often an integral part of a family law case. They use their talents to strengthen and support the attorney in a court proceeding and ultimately help the client find out the truth. The truth isn’t always pretty, but the Private Investigator’s legal and emotional service proves valuable in a very painful situation.

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