Family Law

Using a Private Investigator in a Divorce With Alimony

By Kristina Otterstrom, Attorney
Learn more about how a private investigator can help you in a divorce.

It’s no secret that a private investigator may be able to help you in a divorce. A private investigator can help uncover a secret affair or locate hidden marital assets. In many states, divorcing spouses are more inclined to hire a private eye because one spouse’s adultery may affect an alimony award. But in some situations, a spouse may be liable for a private investigator’s illegal acts, so it’s important to understand when a investigator's actions cross the line.

What Is a Private Investigator?

A private investigator (PI) is a detective for hire. In other words, a PI’s job in a divorce is to help your case by completing a variety of tasks, like gathering evidence of infidelity or tracing your spouse’s secret accounts. Many law firms employ investigators, while other PIs operate on their own. Your attorney may have referrals to help you hire a private investigator with a good track record. Whatever the case, it’s important to make sure that any PI you hire is licensed either by your state or local government and understands the law and limits of their investigation.

How Will a Private Investigator Gather Information in My Case?

Experienced investigators have a variety of methods for gathering information, such as observing your spouse in a public place, taking photos or video recordings, looking for receipts or other documents which may have been thrown away in the trash, and trailing or following your spouse’s movements. However, your PI should never violate the law when gathering information.

Rules regarding stalking and privacy will vary from state to state. However, in many states, it’s illegal to install a video camera in a residence or record your spouse’s private conversations without consent. Instead, a private investigator may be able to take photos of your spouse as long as it's in a public place with no expectation of privacy, such as a restaurant, a public park, in a car, or through an open window. Some investigators are also skilled at tracing financial information and may be able to help track marital funds your spouse spent on an affair. A private investigator will rely on information from you when beginning the search for evidence.

Making Your Case for Alimony

Even with the best private investigator, it can be difficult to prove definitively that your spouse is having an affair. Most evidence is circumstantial: This means that pictures of your ex at a bar or restaurant with an apparent lover don’t necessarily prove that your spouse is having an adulterous affair.

Alimony rules vary depending on where you live. In some states, a spouse’s infidelity may help your claim for a higher alimony award. In other states, one spouse’s marital misconduct won’t affect spousal support. However, if a private investigator discovers that your spouse wasted marital funds on a lover, a court can order your spouse to reimburse those funds to you in a divorce.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I suspect my spouse is having an affair, but I don’t have any proof. Is it worth it to hire a private investigator?
  • What happens if my spouse discovers I’ve hired a private investigator? Could that negatively impact my divorce?
  • How can I make sure that my private investigator doesn’t violate the law when gathering evidence?
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