PI AS MARRIAGE COUNSELOR

FAMILY LAW INVESTIGATIONS: EXPECT TO BE SURPRISED

It was a day like any day and a case like any other case, or so I thought. It started with a call from a husband concerned about his wife. He had questions that had been brewing for a while, apparently, and thought surveillance on his wife this night would provide the answers. This night was key for him, because his wife was to be at a bar with friends from work. She apparently has an affinity for poker, and the bar was sponsoring a small Texas Hold’em tournament. And he suspected that one of the men from work was the culprit in his fears about his wife’s conduct.

Where… and when… it became something well beyond the normal expectations for a family law case was at the conclusion, when the wife, in response to a telephone call from the husband that was made without my knowledge during a break in our meeting, not only… and surprisingly… invited herself to my meeting with her husband… but ended up paying the balance on the invoice, as well.

Clearly, this was a situation that could get out of hand, that even could be dangerous to either one of them or to me. I recognized the risk, of course, but my thought was that, if both were together in my office, my presence could serve to diffuse the situation.

As it turned out, in between her arrival and her paying the bill, I found myself forced into the role of a marriage counselor, as the wife, who clearly admitted that our report of her conduct was accurate, challenged her husband’s conduct toward her, conduct that she asserted was at the root of her disaffection.

It’s important to note that we observed the wife embracing and kissing an associate from work at the bar and again later on the street as they walked to where his car was parked. We observed the man and woman drive away in separate cars to an apartment complex, where her employer maintained a corporate apartment. But we saw the man drive away from that location after a few minutes to another, separate entrance to the complex, where he apparently maintained an apartment. We could not see whether the wife was in the car. In fact, given the darkness and the rain that had been falling steadily, we couldn’t see into the man’s car at all.

So, beyond the affection shown by the two, we saw nothing definitive as to how far along the relationship had progressed.

To that point, the wife was adamant, admitting the affectionate conduct, but denying that it went any further. In fact, she had called her husband and informed him that she had been drinking and was going to stay at the corporate apartment. The timeframe she quoted, in fact, coincided with the times that we recorded during the surveillance.

In any case, the details of the odd negotiations that went on in my office at the presentation and discussion of the report is really a sidebar to the position we investigators often must assume in accepting any case involving domestic surveillance.

That responsibility starts with the initial telephone call asking for help.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard enough in that first call to merely and routinely accept a domestic surveillance case. In fact, I often aggressively challenge the prospective client on the need or even the potential value of the effort. In states where divorce laws provide for a “No-Fault” process, surveillance often is of no value. The clear exception, of course, is where children are involved and potentially at risk because of the conduct of one spouse or the other.

And all too often, the people who call me for help already have enough information to determine a next course of action… counseling, separation, divorce. As we talk, they frequently realize that any evidence from surveillance is just expensive frosting.

Of course, there is the understandable desire of a wronged spouse to obtain hard evidence that can be used to beat up on the other party, but a smart investigator has to recognize that the intensity of that desire to hit back can be a red flag. I think we all remember the Texas case, where the investigators outside a hotel where the husband was meeting a girlfriend stupidly notified the wife, who promptly drove to the location and used a Mercedes to repeatedly run over and kill her husband.

It has long been my policy to identify a second party, if possible, but I rarely can be convinced to pass that information on to the wronged client who hired me. An attorney may require that information, but many of the people who call me for domestic surveillance haven’t consulted, let alone hired, an attorney. Again, another reason for considered caution. Surveillance is profitable, but it is not without risks to both the client and to the investigator.

I regularly require a face-to-face meeting with a prospective domestic surveillance client. It’s important for me to obtain a strong feeling about the client and the client’s initial desires and goals. It’s just as important for the client to gauge my experience and capabilities. And it gives both of us a much more effective chance to really evaluate the need for surveillance… not to mention, again, the mental and emotional state of the prospective client. The lesson is clear: family law cases are never a matter of routine.

Husbands kill wives. Wives kill husbands. Innocent people often get caught in the crossfire. An investigator who merely takes a family case at face value is running a clear risk, both to himself and to the client and the wayward spouse.

Not many cases will end up with the extracurricular wife paying the bill.

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