Television, tabloids and true crime novels tell tales about the nitty-gritty hard-boiled characters who ferret out secrets: the private investigator. The 1920’s and 30’s were the golden age of tough, fictional P.I.’s; Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade: fedora sporting, trench coat wearing ‘dicks’ who were easily swayed to slap shoe leather for a dame in distress.

Times have changed. The information superhighway is much easier on the soles and with the advent of digital cameras and truly tiny spy devices, just about anybody can get a license. This new golden age is all about the spendable kind.

A Private Investigator Can Save Your Divorce Bacon 

If you can afford one, hiring a private investigator during a messy divorce might be a smart way to go. Is a spouse suspected of nefarious activities? An affair? Neglect or abuse? Hiding assets? If true, any of these accusations can and will have a profound impact upon the outcome of your divorce proceedings, assuming, of course, you are the injured party. Suspicions of such behavior alone are worthless.

Unless the extramarital congress was caught on the JumboTron during the Super Bowl you will need more grounds for belief. In a judicial trial the participants are bound by something called “burden of proof”. What this means is to have – to provide to the court – evidence that supports the facts of what you suspect. Evidence that a judge can look at or listen to and decide whether or not he believes that yes, infidelity is or was taking place or there is a secret offshore account in the Caymans to which you are entitled a portion. In other words, can you actually prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that what you say is the truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God? That proverbial picture worth a 1000 words just may be worth a lot more than that. 

What You Get From a PI

So what exactly does a private investigator do? Basically, they gather facts. Many specialize in specific areas like intellectual property, employee background checks, workman’s comp and insurance cases, business practice investigation and skip chasing – finding people who owe other people money, property or services.

Those who handle domestic work primarily tend to limit their investigation to public record searches and conducting surveillance. The former is tedious and time consuming, the later, following people without them noticing, while obtaining surreptitious photographs is not as easy as you might think and once again, runs up a good many billable hours.

Hours that average around $50 US per and can run up over a $100.00. Some will quote you a flat fee for a single service if say you wanted to find out the background of the guy your wife is seeing. Bear in mind that some good public record databases, archives and publications have a hefty subscriber search fee. An investigatory agency will recoup the cost of these annual charges as a business expense through the course of a year’s worth of clients. All of the financial details can be explained and arranged during a sit down with the investigator when you meet to outline your needs. It is important to be as honest and forthright as possible. The more information they have, the better they can produce results for you. Respectively, you can ask to be provided with a detailed accounting of the charges invoiced to you.

Manage Your Expectations 

Before you rush off to Google ‘private investigators in my area’  there are a few things you need to be aware of. First of all, forget everything you’ve learned about the private detectives portrayed on crime shows and in movies. Licensed, professional P.I.’s are bound by law. They cannot, for instance, sneak into your wife’s house and copy financial records  or snap in flagranti pics in the middle of the night. They cannot, in a majority of states, tap phones or obtain information by what is called ‘pretexting’ – which has nothing to do with sending a message on a cell phone. Obtaining information using a ruse, for example, putting on a uniform, carrying a toolbox and gaining entrance to a private residence or business is considered doing so under pretext and will land both you and your investigator in legal hot water. By hiring him or her you become just as legally culpable.

If you have or are retaining an attorney, chances are they already work with one or several investigators. If not, the smartest thing to do is seek out a licensed, experienced and reputable professional.

Know someone with a sneaky spouse?

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(c) Can Stock Photo / squidmediaro

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