At CFLP we have a keen focus on our clients’ needs. In family law, we deal with people at some of the most stressful periods of their lives, where there can be considerable fears, suspicions, doubts and hunches about what is the truth and whether someone is trying to hide it. People come to us when the trust has gone from their relationship, and the uncertainty about what is going on can be difficult to bear. On occasion our clients will look to a private investigator to help them find the facts they need to make an informed decision about what to do next. At other times, we, like lawyers in all types of practice, will seek to engage private investigators to help us establish facts that help further our client’s cases. In some family law cases (eg Grey v Grey on post-divorce cohabitation’s impact on maintenance payments), evidence uncovered by private investigators can play a significant role. They are also very useful when trying to locate someone for service of court papers, and indeed for serving the papers themselves too.
The idea of private investigators evokes differing reactions: they are often viewed with suspicion and considered to operate on the edge of the law, and people may be reluctant to get involved with them in case they are considered to be acting in an underhand way. However, the private investigators we deal with at CFLP are all incredibly conscious of the legal parameters in which they need to operate, and while they are knowledgeable and creative in fulfilling their assignments, they don’t do grey areas. They deal in facts, legally obtained.
Jo Clarke is a director at D-TEC, a national investigation firm which does a great deal of relationship investigation work as part of a wider client profile. Her relationship investigation clients are about 50/50 male and female, and many of them comment that she breaks the private investigator mould, being neither male nor a former police officer. In fact she came to investigations after chatting with other mums about the need for a different kind of investigation offering which was more tailored to the specific requirements of people going through tough emotional times. Because Jo has been divorced herself, she has an understanding of the dynamics of this stage of life, and has tailored her business specifically in this direction.
“We can be involved before and after separation”, says Jo. “Before, it’s following up suspicions that people have about whether their partner is involved in another relationship. Afterwards, it can be about serving papers, finding proof of cohabitation with a new partner after separation, which can affect the financial outcome, or asset-tracing if there is a suspicion that money is being hidden”. There’s not so much hiding in bushes equipped with a long lens these days, although time and date-stamped photographs remain powerful evidence in some cases; vehicle tracking and electronic resources are also useful in many situations, and private investigators often find themselves being quite creative about how to get to the truth. A reputable one will understand, however, what sort of evidence the court will need to see to consider a particular point proved, and what will not be admissible.
Jo sees a private investigator’s role as enabling people to access the facts they need to make a decision about what to do next. “People often surprise you,” she comments. “Sometimes we find out that the client’s suspicions of an affair are totally unfounded, but the client will decide that in any event they don’t wish to continue the relationship. Or even if we do find evidence of a partner’s affair, it doesn’t automatically mean that the client will choose to part ways. Often, we are part of the process of helping people to make up their minds about what they want to do next. We give them the facts, and we give them appropriate support and a listening ear. The end decision is up to the individual.”
When you can’t shake a suspicion that someone is not being straight with you, the availability of a private investigator can be both terrifying and alluring. The question is, will knowing the truth make a difference to how you feel? For lawyers, being able to establish the truth with evidence can be pivotal to a client’s case, and so investigators can sometimes be invaluable. But for an individual making decisions about a relationship, the stakes may be even higher.
Our advice is that it’s not necessary to use a private investigator to get proof of adultery for a divorce petition – in most cases it is less expensive and less contentious to petition on the basis of your spouse’s behaviour instead. However if you are thinking of engaging an investigator for personal reasons, choose a reputable agency and ensure you have some emotional support in place to enable you to process whatever you discover – whether it’s that your suspicions are unfounded or not. The truth can set you free; but what if free isn’t what you want?