Can you recommend a private investigator for me?

In family law cases, people use private investigators for all sorts of things. Usually, it’s to catch a cheating husband. But, sometimes, we also use private investigators to watch dad during his parenting time, or to discover some unsavory business practices in which he might be engaged.

There can be tons and tons of reasons to hire a private investigator and, if you’re one of the people who are wondering about how you should go about it, you’re not alone. And I have a couple pieces of advice for you.

We get calls, somewhat frequently, about who we’d recommend as a private investigator. After all, like with anything connected to litigation, you want someone specific. Not just ANY private investigator will do. With court, if your case does actually go to court, you’ll want someone who has done an adequate job with the investigation side of things – but you’ll ALSO want someone who is able to withstand very, very vigorous questioning and cross examination! Some newbie off the street with a video camera is not good enough. And you probably can’t tell, just from looking at someone’s website or business card, whether they’re trial tested and attorney-approved. Trust me, this is critical.

I can’t tell you how often even good, experienced witnesses get tripped up on the stand. Since your case will hang on his testimony, you need someone who is used to this and can take it. It’s NOT easy. Attorneys can be slick, and are often good at pulling out small pieces of inconsistent testimony, and wringing an inexperienced witness out to dry. It can be uncomfortable to watch.

Fine, I need a trial tested private investigator. Who do you recommend?

Whoa, there. Slow your roll a little bit. I’m not actually done making recommendations here.

Before you call up someone – even someone that we’ve worked with before and know is a good private investigator to deal with in a litigated case in Virginia – you should talk to an attorney.

Working with a private investigator is not something you should do a la carte. It’s should be part of a specifically defined case strategy.

There’s nothing scientific about a shot in the dark and, without an attorney, that’s what you’d be doing. Private investigators often charge similar retainers to an attorney, especially if they’re one of those trial tested private investigators I was telling you about. They – like lawyers and doctors and everyone else – are not all the same. They don’t charge the same, either.

So, before you go shelling out $5,000 or more, make sure of a couple things. First of all, make sure it’s part of a SOUND LEGAL STRATEGY. What point is spending $5,000 if it’s NOT part of a strategy? Sure, you may find some validation – but you also may not – so if you’re going to move forward with this, you should be sure that you’re doing something specifically targeted to get the results that you want. Remember? We do not like random shots in the dark, especially very, very expensive shots in the dark.

Your attorney can tell you what kind of information your private investigator should be trying to get. Your attorney can really shed some light, and be a helpful presence, especially in these uncharted waters.

You know what else your attorney can do? Your attorney can tell you whether this course of action will be worth it.

I always say, “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” What I mean is – will you get MORE because of the evidence you’re spending $5,000+ to get? Will it be worth it, in terms of your equitable distribution package or your spousal support award or your custody and visitation arrangement? Often, the answer is no. I don’t mean to tell you the answer is no – I’m not even sure I know the question for you, specifically – except to say that adultery, for example, is rarely a golden ticket.

Talk to your chosen attorney about what might happen, and whether the money is worth spending BEFORE you go all gung ho and get information that (1) might not hold up in court, (2) is from a source who won’t be able to testify effectively, (3) isn’t part of a specific legal strategy, and (4) that may not yield you anything worth the effort, money, and blood pressure points you’ve poured into it.

I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer, but only to inject some new ideas to what you’ve clearly already been thinking about. Maybe there’s some good information there, and maybe it’ll help your case – but, for goodness sake, do it in a way that allows you to preserve that evidence and is in furtherance of a well thought out plan.

For more information or to talk to one of our attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.

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