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Can You Hire a Private Investigator in a Child Custody Case?

Posted by Lee Zavatsky | Jul 14, 2022

In California, many child custody cases in divorce are intensely debated over accusations from each parent seeking primary custody. This means there are situations where hiring a private investigator can help a parent prove their claims and give them an advantage in court regarding custody.

Can You Hire a Private Investigator in a Child Custody Case?
Hiring a private investigator can help you prove claims to get an advantage in a child custody case.

Private investigators perform various services to collect crucial information proving their allegations about their spouse. There are situations where one parent believes that joint custody will place their kid in danger but must prove it.

A child custody investigation is designed to evaluate a child's overall well-being openly and objectively. All family courts in California have the same primary goal in determining child custody matters, which is what is in the child's best interest.

Thus, a private investigator can assess the treatment of a child by a parent in question and present this information to the court in a report.

During a child custody investigation, they can conduct surveillance to understand how the child is being treated. Further, they can document any abuse or neglect by taking pictures or recordings. When one parent decides to hire a private investigator, some of the activity they are attempting to document includes:

A private investigator can also look for any sign showing their spouse is not providing their children with a safe place to live or adequate food, clothing, or other necessary items.  Our California divorce and family law lawyers will discuss this topic in more detail below.

What Primary Questions Should You First Consider?

Under California family laws, there is a presumption of joint child custody between parents because there is a strong belief that continued frequent contact with both parents is in the child's best interests. Still, there are some exceptions to this rule.

For example, one parent might have a valid reason to believe that awarding joint child custody will put their kid at risk of physical or emotional harm. However, having a belief and proving it's true are two entirely different things in the eyes of a family court.

What the court can confirm as accurate is the fact that unfounded allegations against a parent from the other are pretty standard.

When a parent starts making accusations against the other in child custody issues, the court is most likely to believe it's exaggerated, entirely false, or only one side of the story. Thus, there are some essential questions first to consider:

  • Under what circumstances should you consider hiring a private investigator?
  • How can you prove to the family court that your spouse is engaging in harmful behavior that can impact your children?
  • Can a private investigator be helpful to your custody case?
  • Can you hire a private investigator to help support your arguments for sole child custody?

When Should You Consider Hiring a Private Investigator?

Typically, some warning signs and red flags will tell you when you should consider hiring a child custody investigator. In most cases, the divorcing spouse was already aware of potentially bad behavior as it occurred during the marriage.

Hiring a Private Investigator in Child Custody Disputes
You will need show valid evidence to support that your children are in a harmful situation.

When considering hiring a private investigator to help gather information in a child custody case, it can be a stressful and significant decision.

Essentially, you are asking a stranger to investigate your soon-to-be ex-spouse by conducting surveillance on them. This is the same person you once loved and the parent of your child.

It's not always an easy decision, but just like the family courts, the best interest of your kids should be a top priority. In other divorces, it's an easy decision because solid evidence supports that your kids would be placed in a harmful situation while in the custody of your ex-spouse.

In other words, you are sure that the evidence gathered by the investigator will result in a desired child custody arrangement and keep your children from harm.

So, when should you at least consider the possibility of hiring a private investigator to help you in a California child custody case? Below are some scenarios:

  • You believe the other parent is abusing alcohol or drugs;
  • You believe they are generally an unfit parent;
  • The other parent has a mental illness;
  • There is evidence of domestic violence or abuse;
  • There are valid concerns the kids won't receive adequate care;
  • There are other adults in the home, placing the kids a risk.

Any alcohol or drug abuse can place children at risk in their homes. Still, it can be challenging to prove in a family courtroom, especially alcohol, that parents have a right to possess and reasonably consume it.

When Should You Consider Hiring a Private Investigator?
Hiring a private investigator in child custody disputes is sometimes necessary to gain custody.

A private investigator might be able to determine whether your ex-spouse is excessively drinking or abusing illegal drugs or prescription medication to the point where it places your children in danger.

The court could consider that other adults living in the home could potentially place your kids at risk. For example, an investigator could conduct a background check for domestic violence convictions or addiction-related arrests.

If you believe there is neglect or intentional abuse of your children, you should consider hiring an investigator to gather evidence. In many cases, children are too afraid to tell their other parents of the abuse.

If you have proof of severe issues, you could seek an emergency custody order granting you full custody pending an investigation. The court could put a permanent custody order if there is sufficient evidence of abuse or neglect. A private investigator could help determine abuse or neglect and provide evidence.

What are the Primary Tasks of a Private Investigator?

In the context of helping you in a child custody case, there are numerous valuable tasks a private investigator could perform, such as the following:

  • Collect evidence of alcohol or drug abuse by a parent;
  • Conduct a background check on the parent, new intimate partner, or other people who live in the same home as your child;
  • Gather financial information about the parent to prove they are presenting false information to the family court related to support obligations;
  • Conduct witness interviews with first-hand knowledge about a parent's daily life they might be attempting to hide from the court.
  • Take pictures or videos of a parent in public that show they neglect or abuse the children.

Perhaps the investigator could uncover information about how much time the other parent spends with kids during their visitation time.

Maybe they can show that a babysitter is hired to watch the kids the most of the time they are supposed to spend with them. The parent spends more time in a club with their friends than the kids.

Get help from California Child Custody Professionals

The specific tasks of a private investigator will depend on what you believe is occurring that could place your kids at risk. The primary reasons parents consider hiring a private investigator is related to their child's safety and well-being.

California Child Custody Professionals
Contact our child custody professionals to review all the details of your case and to discuss options.

In other words, the parent needs proof to show to the family court. The PI typically knows the legal requirements regarding evidence and could provide their testimony in court.

A private investigator can help you gather the evidence you need to obtain sole custody of your children, but they are not lawyers. This means before you decide to hire a private investigator, you should first consult with a lawyer.

The California divorce and family law lawyers at Furman and Zavatsky are in Los Angeles County.

Our Certified Family Law Specialists provide legal representation to people in Orange County, Ventura County, Santa Barbara County, San Bernardino, and Riverside. We offer a free case review at (818) 528-3471 or use the contact form.

About the Author

Lee Zavatsky

Lee Zavatsky is a partner at Furman & Zavatsky, a law firm dedicated to the practice of Family Law. Mr. Zavatsky has been selected as one of the Top 40 Under 40 by The National Trial Lawyers, a professional organization composed of the top trial lawyers from each state or region who are under the...

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