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Working Effectively With Your Private Investigator

You’ve made your decision and hired a private investigator. Now what? The best all-encompassing advice we can give you is to trust your decision and let the detective do his job. Most of all, do not do anything to "tip off" your spouse/ex, or arouse their suspicions. For example, you should maintain your normal level of interaction - don’t ask more questions, don’t ask less. Don’t change your schedule or make other major changes that are likely to let them know something is different. Most of all, DO NOT follow or have others follow them during the investigation. Nothing is more frustrating for an investigator than to have the client show up near a surveillance operation. If you are seen, not only will that surveillance be useless, you may cause your spouse to refrain from any activity that you could use against them - remember, the investigator cannot gather proof for you if your spouse isn’t doing anything that needs to be proven!

Along the same lines, you should be very careful about who knows you have hired an investigator. There is no better time to decide to keep something to yourself. Too many people find out too late that friends, family or coworkers they confided in deliberately or accidentally revealed their plans, usually just to someone they thought they could trust - and the information ends up being passed along.

If the person finds out he or she is being followed, the investigation will probably have to be delayed - at worst, you could completely ruin any chance you had to obtain evidence that is admissible to prove your case. When you suspect adultery or that your children’s other parent is harming them in some way, it is natural to want to complain to or confide in friends and family, but the longer you can keep the investigation to yourself, the better. Likewise, as the investigation progresses, do not confront your spouse/ex with anything that is found unless and until you have discussed the findings with your attorney. What seems like "all the proof you need" to you may not be legally sufficient to prove adultery in Family Court. If you don’t have an attorney, at the very least discuss progress with your investigator and keep your long term goals in mind. It may be very tempting to confront your husband or wife when they lie to you about where they were the night before, but if you resist the temptation, you stand a much better chance of him or her continuing their behavior, giving the detective ample opportunity to document it for you.

Communicating with your investigator is crucial, but remember you are paying by the hour (most likely) for their services, so limit your conversations to providing information on possible surveillance opportunities or information the detective may need to conduct the investigation efficiently. If you find out that your spouse/ex has made or changed plans for a possible meeting with their lover, let the investigator know as soon as possible. Solo investigators plan their surveillance activities based on the information they have, so if you wait, they may already have another case scheduled. National companies typically have a scheduling process that may not be timely enough to get the information processed and the task assigned to the field investigator.

Often, national companies contract with local solo investigators, so you are taking a risk, if you wait, that the information may not reach the investigator in time. Most local mid-sized firms have several field investigators available, but just like the solo and national companies, they schedule surveillance based on the information they have. If you call at the last minute, they can probably accommodate your request, but you may be charged extra. (Hopefully you will have read the contract for services before signing and be aware of any price differentials - if you are concerned, ask! The investigator works for you.) Getting the information to the investigator as soon as you can helps them schedule surveillance effectively, keeps you from missing out on an opportunity to gather valuable evidence, and saves you money.

As the investigation progresses, be patient, and be realistic, considering all the circumstances and the professional advice of your investigator and attorney. In some cases where the adultery is out in the open, it is not as difficult to document. If, however, your spouse is being very careful and/or is aware of what is required to prove adultery, it may take weeks or months to gather enough evidence. A termination of alimony case, by definition, takes quite a long time and a significant investment in surveillance time and equipment. Other complicating factors, such as significant travel, location and privacy of activities, an affair with a co-worker, adultery with a person of the same gender and many other factors can complicate surveillance efforts. Child custody cases and others where alcohol or drug abuse may be an issue, involve legal and technical difficulties unlike other cases - they take longer, cost more and often take multiple days of surveillance to obtain enough evidence. If you did a good job of researching and interviewing before you hired a detective, you will be working with an investigator who will be happy to explain whatever difficulties they anticipate before the case begins, and to discuss new concerns as they arise during the course of the investigation.

Sometimes the subject of the investigation "makes" the detective (realizes they are being followed) - sometimes this is due to a mistake on the part of the surveillance investigator, but not always - no honest detective will claim they have never been "made" during an investigation. Experienced investigators with proper equipment are less likely to get "made", but it can happen even to the best of us. If this happens, the investigator may notify you, and you should discuss how to proceed. Be aware, though, that you may get an angry or scathing phone call from your spouse claiming they know you’re having them followed. Perhaps they "made" the investigator, but perhaps not. Often, people involved in affairs make this accusation just to see how the innocent spouse will react - they may in fact not know anything at all. You will need to use your instincts to decide how to react, but if it is at all possible to continue to keep the investigation to yourself, by all means do so, then discuss with your investigator as soon as you can.

Sometimes the investigator will follow the subject on many occasions and not document any suspicious behavior. This could be due to the subject being very careful or any number of other factors, but your detective should be willing to provide you with updates and talk to you about possible changes in strategy. If your investigator brushes you off or refuses to discuss "what’s taking so long", you may need to reconsider your choice of investigators. Be mindful, though, that you are experiencing many different emotions and it can be difficult to be patient, and it can be difficult to process when you hear things you don’t want to hear. As with any positive relationship, you and your investigator must be willing to listen to each other and work together towards your goals.

Once you and/or your attorney are satisfied that enough evidence has been gathered, the investigator should provide you with a detailed report and a copy of any photographs, video and audio they have obtained. Expect the investigator to require full payment before providing a report or testifying in a deposition or court proceeding. Your investigator should be available to discuss the case with your attorney both during and at the conclusion of the investigation.

What should you do if something goes wrong? You’re not satisfied with the progress of the case? You’re not comfortable with the strategy? These issues can usually be resolved by contacting the investigator and setting an appointment to meet face to face. If you cannot resolve the issues, you may wish to discuss terminating the case. Most private detectives require a non-refundable retainer, and you agree to it being non-refundable when you sign the contract. This is one of the many reasons it is crucial that you take the time to choose your private investigator very carefully. An honest and reputable investigation firm may be willing to discuss a return of some portion of a retainer that has not been used; however, they are certainly not required to do so. An investigator, especially a solo detective, may have turned down other cases due to her commitment to your case, and though this is a perfectly legitimate reason not to consider a refund, she is not required to divulge this information.

If the problem is that you can’t find your investigator or are having trouble getting a big company to communicate with you, very often contact from your attorney will bring a swift response. If the investigator is working hard on your case, he will be more than willing to let your attorney know this. If contact via your attorney does not work, or you have concluded that the investigator is simply not to be found, or that you have been cheated, you may contact SLED Regulatory Services to file a complaint. An investigator in South Carolina who fails to abide by licensing requirements can be censured or can even lose their license. If you have an attorney, discuss your concerns with them before filing the complaint. An alternative to filing a complaint with SLED, if you feel you were cheated, is to file a complaint in Magistrate’s or Common Pleas court. Litigation is expensive with no guarantees, though, so again, talk with an attorney before proceeding. Hopefully you will never have need for these steps. We know and work with private investigators all over South Carolina, the United States and even internationally - the overwhelming majority are hard working, honest professionals. If you have or have had a negative experience with a private detective, look back and try to assess whether there were any tell tale signs that indicated that the investigator might not live up to your expectations, and then, armed with this new wisdom, start your search again.


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