Do you suspect a cheating partner? An ex-spouse who isn’t taking their part in custody? An ex who isn’t holding up their end of the settlement? Then you want to look into hiring a private investigator. Jan Barefoot of Barefoot Investigations discussed the ins and outs of hiring a PI with Jessica and T.H. on the Divorce, etc… podcast if you’re suspecting your partner or former partner of suspicious activity.
Becoming a private investigator wasn’t in Jan’s plan. She thought she wanted to be a legal secretary growing up and worked at a law firm for a few years in this field. From there, she slowly migrated into the investigative industry. When she started in Charlotte, NC where she’s located, there were only two other investigators, and they were both men. “I do think that I hit it really at a good time,” Jan reflects. “I was one of the first females around, and I came from the legal industry, so I had that professional background.” Most PIs have a law enforcement background, but you don’t have to come from this background to become a private investigator. Jan sees journalists becoming PIs, librarians becoming PIs – the industry isn’t limited. PIs come from diverse backgrounds from all over.
Why Should I Hire a PI?
The biggest and most common reason someone will hire an investigator is if they suspect their spouse is having an affair. They notice their partner coming home late, they’re not where they’re supposed to be, they seem to be hiding their phone from you, going out with friends more often – these are the red flags that might not warrant one to come out and confront their spouse, but are ones that lead them to call a PI to get answers.
And even if the red flags that are popping up are small, if you have a gut feeling that something is off, trust your gut. “95% of the people who call us and say, I suspect my spouse is having an affair, maybe even 98%, we catch them doing something,” Jan says in her line of work. By the time someone comes to her office with a request, they’ve got that gut feeling. “It’s very rare that we follow someone and don’t find that they’re having an affair.”
When Is it Time to Hire a PI?
So should you hire a PI after a divorce, or before as you are working to negotiate a deal?
Most of Jan’s clients come to her early on, when they have those initial suspicions. But several people come a few years into their settlement after the fact. They may be seeing their ex is drinking a lot more, or not as involved with the kids, and that’s when a PI can be valuable in renegotiating custody.
Another time that a PI can be of great help is if there is a clause in your settlement that says support payments end once your ex remarries or cohabitates. Many people will not remarry to keep the money flowing, but they will cohabitate. Jan’s team does a lot of surveillance for this situation to try to establish if people are living together, and if not, how much time they spend together. This is beneficial in negotiating long-term alimony or post-separation support money.
A PI’s Role in Court
Investigators aren’t very involved in the actual court process. An investigator will submit their report – videos, photographs, any piece of evidence they’ve got – all to the attorney and client. The attorney will then use the evidence however they see fit in the case. There is a small percentage of cases where the investigator will testify, but it’s not very common. Sometimes they’re just used to admit the report and prove opportunity and inclination for evidence of adultery.
How Do I Find the Right PI for Me?
It’s great if you can get a PI recommended by someone you know. If you don’t get a recommendation, then the first thing you want to make sure you’re looking for is an investigator that is properly licensed. And with a PI, communication is key. If you aren’t receiving updates and feedback from your PI, that is not the right PI to be working with.
In regards to money, most investigators will require their retainer up front and then work on an hourly rate. You want a PI who will notify you when that retainer is used up so you know how much you’re paying. Jan’s company works hard to keep its clients up to date and make sure they know how much they’re investing in their surveillance services.
What About the Kids?
Hiring a PI isn’t just for catching infidelity. It can also help build a child custody case. If you’ve got a spouse with a drug or alcohol problem, an investigator can do surveillance on them to determine how much they’re drinking, when, if they drink and drive, and if they drive drunk with your kids.
PIs can also survey to see if your ex is honoring a custody agreement that has already been put in place. If they’re just dropping the kids off at a relative’s house every time it’s their turn with them, then proof of this can show that they aren’t spending quality time with the kids and this can be used to negotiate more time with your kids.
When Does Evidence Matter?
Some states won’t consider a cheating spouse at fault in a divorce. So in those cases, when does having a PI and evidence matter?
If anything, leverage. For example, in North Carolina, has weight in deciding on alimony because it is not a no-fault state. There are also still alienation of affection lawsuits that can take place, meaning you have the option of suing the person your spouse is cheating on you with for damages for alienating your spouse’s affection. This doesn’t happen too often, and the process is very drawn out and expensive, but it does give you leverage because Jan says most of the time the cheating individual doesn’t want to involve their new lover. They want to protect that person from the court proceedings. So you can use this as leverage in negotiating a settlement that’s more favorable for you.
So I’ve Got Evidence. What Do I Do Now?
Do. Not. Confront. Jan says it may be difficult, but don’t share the evidence you have on them, don’t tell them what you know, don’t share anything other than that you know they’re cheating or whatever you have had them tailed for. For one, you may get feedback that your spouse went to dinner with someone and kissed them. This could be their girlfriend, but maybe not. It’s not solid evidence of adultery. You can’t immediately confront them about this the second you have the feedback. You need to get more evidence, more proof, and build a case.
How Much Am I Spending?
Barefoot Investigations typically starts with a $3,500 retainer, but costs will vary from case to case. But in general, retainers are somewhere between $3,500 to $5,000.
Some cases will also warrant two investigators on surveillance. If there’s an out-of-town trip involved, that’s going to have more expenses. If your partner has a large period of opportunity, that’s going to involve a lot more hours of coverage required. There are a lot of factors that determine the cost you’ll be investing in surveillance.
The bottom line is that not every divorce case warrants a private investigator, so it’s not something you have to run out and do as soon as you know you’re getting divorced. But if you do have that hunch that there is cheating going on, or that their behavior is questionable, speaking to a private investigator can be extremely helpful in the outcome of your case.