should i hire a private eye?

maybe, maybe not.

People seem to think its all a necessary part of divorce or that a private detective will put them at an advantage in the court process. But this is not always so.

There are three reasons why you might want to hire a private detective to nose around your spouse’s affairs: to find out about infidelity, to prove infidelity, to find out more about someone’s finances.

As for the first – well thats a matter for you and your conscience.

Lets be honest, if you’re thinking of hiring a private detective your relationship is probably already in difficulties. As for the second two reasons, here are a few things to think about:

Proving infidelity. Why?

Are you doing this for emotional reasons or practical reasons? Be honest with yourself.  People feel compelled to find out all the hurtful things their spouse has done, but you probably already know s/he’s a *bleep* – will it really make you feel better? 

If its the latter – what is it you think you’ll get out of it in practical terms? A better cut of the cake? Read on…

You can get divorced whether or not there has been adultery. All that is necessary is that the relationship has broken down irretrievably due to your spouse’s unreasonable conduct. Alternatively you can divorce on the grounds of 2 years separation by agreement or 5 years separation without. Of course, you can get divorced on grounds of adultery but thats probably the most unpleasant route to take.

If you petition for divorce on grounds of adultery you will usually have to name the person your spouse has been unfaithful with and this makes divorce more contentious and more costly, for obvious reasons. Plus, you are more likely to end up with a fight on your hands, which means you will be the one who has to prove the actual adultery in order to get you divorce. This means you need evidence.

The grounds of divorce almost never have any bearing upon the financial settlement that the court will order. There is no financial advantage in securing a divorce on grounds of adultery as opposed to (say) unreasonable behaviour). Proving your spouse is a *bleep* will not net you big bucks. And it might not even make you feel better in the long run.

If you and your spouse agree the relationship has irretrievably broken down there is pretty much always something less contentious than adultery that you can agree amounts to ‘unreasonable behaviour’ sufficient to get your divorce – lets face it if your relationship has failed there will be probably be a long list of things. Practically, it really doesn’t matter who gets the divorce or whose behaviour is referred to. So its often best for one of you to swallow your pride and agree to let the divorce go through on the basis of agreed grounds even if it means you don’t get the momentary emotional boon of being the one who divorced him / her. Try to put emotion to one side – the aim is to get divorced quickly and painlessly. Its only when the divorce is underway that you can start on the real battle – sorting out the finances. This process can be time consuming and emotionally draining and whilst most lawyers will try and work things so you can resolve the finances by agreement early on you need to save your energy for the financial proceedings if necessary. Don’t get distracted with the divorce itself. In the long run its just a piece of paper that sets you free. You need to move on and live your life and you can’t do that until the money is sorted.

Most people find it hard to accept but the court dealing with the finances WILL NOT CARE what bad behaviour you or your spouse has been responsible for. People are unfaithful, violent, drunk and unfair every day. This does not alter the decision about who gets the house or the pension and the court will not want to hear it. 

So the short version: its probably a waste of your money to hire a private detective to prove adultery. You can probably get a divorce anyway. Of course if you are thinking of hiring someone to find out if your spouse is being unfaithful you’ll have to make your own decision, but don’t do it in the hope it will give you some legal advantage. It won’t.

Finding the Money

What might be worth doing is hiring a private detective to find out more about your spouse’s finances. However, when the court is involved there is a process of disclosure where both parties have to give full information about their finances. Its usually more cost effective to work with that court process in the first instance. I would only ever suggest hiring someone to find out more if the disclosure process has not turned up the goods. The advantage of waiting to see what information is given voluntarily is that you will have more information to work with as a starting point.

In my experience hiring a private detective is a distraction at best and an expensive disappointment at worst.

Before You Spy…

Here are a few pointers:

  1. Consider whether its really worth the expense. Does you spouse really have sufficient undisclosed income or capital to make this worthwhile? More often than not the answer is no.
  2. Consider what information you have that can provide a starting point for investigations. How much further are you likely to get? Some things, such as exactly how much a self employed tradesman who works mainly cash in hand is really earning, are notoriously difficult to pinpoint and you can get just as far with information you will already have as with a private detective (for example the court process will give you credit card statements that may show him living the good life).
  3. What do you want to find out? Do you want to prove that your spouse is working when they say they aren’t? Do you want to prove your spouse is living somewhere different to the address given (and that they own that property)? Do you want to prove your spouse is cohabiting with someone and being financially supported by them? Do you want to prove your spouse is living a lifestyle inconsistent with their declared income? Be specific about what you want to achieve.
  4. Remember, hiring a private detective is a waste of time and money if you don’t end up with evidence of sufficient quality to present in court. Its no good knowing there is more money if you can’t prove it. You will need to discuss this with anyone you hire and ensure that written evidence is part of your agreement.
  5. Speak to your solicitor first. There are several public records that your solicitor can check herself without needing to go to a private detective (land registry etc). This may be more cost effective. Also your solicitor may be able to recommend a private detective and may be able to liase with them for you.
  6. Research different agencies before hiring anyone. Try and get a recommendation rather than simply looking on the internet or in yellow pages.
  7. Make sure that you are clear with the private detective that you only want lawful work to be carried out. Unfortunately some private detectives will carry out work that is not legal and you do not want to get into hot water or be put in the irritating situation where your private detective tells you he has found out something helpful but won’t put it in writing in case he is called upon to disclose his methods.
  8. Make sure you liase with your solicitor about hiring a private detective so any information can be fed into the court process at the appropriate time. You will probably need the permission of the court to rely upon anything you find out.
  9. Agree what work will be carried out and what you will be charged. Keep checking what work is being carried out. You probably have limited funds and want to try and ensure they are focused on the work that has the best chance of pay-off.
  10. Make sure you obtain an itemised invoice for the work carried out both so you can check that you are paying the correct amount and so you can justify the expense to the court. You are unlikely to recover these costs but if you are going to try you will need proper invoices.
  11. Remember, a private detective may not get you much further. You may not necessarily be able to get the answers or information you want to.

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