In late 2017, over twenty states had legislation on the docket centered around equal parenting time – commonly known as co-parenting – encouraging separating and divorcing couples to collaborate raising their children like when they were married. With both parties on equal footing, the task of building a case, either in your defense or against an ex-husband or ex-wife, no longer can depend on assumed suitability.
There has been quite a bit of legislative action at the state level in the United States when it comes to child custody as well. Laws to prevent discrimination against parents with disabilities, addressing how relocation will affect a custody arrangement, and the rights of grandparents raising grandchildren have been enacted.
When new tax reforms kick in on January 1, 2019, the tax deduction for alimony payments will be eliminated. While that doesn't directly affect child support, it does affect unallocated support, payments meant to help divorcing spouse and children at the same time, which currently is deducted.
The divorce process is still messy and can become more complicated when emotions run high. Claims of abuse or neglect can determine which parent will retain custody of a child and under what conditions another parent can visit with their child. There are often claims of abuse or other factors that may determine a parent's fitness; and these claims may or may not be true. In these cases, you need evidence to strengthen your case.
When it comes to child custody investigations, the best interests of the child are key. A private investigator can conduct a child custody investigation on your behalf to ensure that your children are safe, and evidence that can help to establish the truth about your child’s welfare and safety in the courtroom.
Types of Child Custody
In order to understand the nature and purpose of child custody investigations, it’s important to understand what sorts of custody exist, and what type of custody you are seeking (or seeking to prove is not right for the child).
- Legal Custody: gives a parent the right to make decisions regarding the child.
- Physical Custody: means the child lives with you.
- Sole Custody: the child both lives with you, and you have the right to make legal decisions regarding the child’s affairs. The other parent may have visitation rights, but has no say over the child’s affairs or where the child lives.
- Joint Legal Custody: you and the child’s other parent have a say in decisions regarding the child. In the event of a major disagreement, the courts will become involved.
- Joint Physical Custody: the child splits their time between both parents’ custody.
What the Courts Consider in Custody Cases
When the courts decide custody, they are guided by the Best Interests of the Child Standard. Although the details may vary from state to state, Courts are required to take into account a number of factors that will assist in determining what custody arrangement will be in the child's best interest. Obviously, if there is abuse, that will be a determining factor. The Courts will look at the overall picture including which parent is most capable of providing support to the child, where the child will be safest, the mental and physical needs of the parents and children, and what type of extended family network is available to help with raising the child. Each jurisdiction has its own laws that provide guidance to the courts as to how to determine the best interests of the child, but comprehensive guidelines can also be found at ChildWelfare.org.
Here are some common factors that the courts are likely to consider when determining the best interests of the child:
- The stability, health, lifestyle and schedules of each parent
- Whether prospective guardians have criminal records and/or activity
- Any evidence of child abuse or neglect
- If there are fraudulent or unfounded accusations by either parent against the other concerning abuse or neglect of the child
- Whether either parent has a history complaints of violence
- Drug and alcohol use (and abuse)
- Evidence of parenting skills
- Willingness and means to provide food, shelter, and education for the child
- The state of the home environment
- The morality and conduct of the parent
- The overall emotional and physical health of the parent
- The willingness of one parent to support a healthy and ongoing relationship between the child and the other parent
- If either parent has abducted or abandoned the child in defiance of court orders or legal process.
- Evidence of the parent’s care and affection for the child
- The financial health and standing of each parent
- Each parents’ past and current personal conduct
- The suitability and acceptability of the parent’s friends and other associates
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What an Investigator Can Find to Help Your Case
Child custody investigations can provide competent evidence to the Court that can establish what truly is in the child's best interest. The investigation can demonstrate when placement with a parent is not in the child's best interest, but it can also provide objective evidence to demonstrate when placement with a parent is in a child's best interest.
If you believe that your child is being abused, neglected, or otherwise is unsafe with a parent, or if you believe that the courts would provide you with custody of your child if they had all the facts, a private investigator can help you. Without concrete evidence, child custody cases often devolve into he-said-she-said arguments in the courtroom that are unlikely to result in an outcome that is in the best interests of the child.
Here’s how a private investigator can conduct a child custody investigation and gather the evidence you need:
- Surveillance: By watching the child in the care of a parent, an investigator can determine whether they are being neglected or abused by the other parent, whether the other parent abuses drugs or alcohol (especially in the presence of the child), or whether your child istreated with affection. Overall, an investigator can testify to the overall quality of the home environment and the acceptability of a parent’s conduct.
- Witness Statements. This is some of the strongest evidence an investigator can gather to support your case. Independent witness testimony carries considerable weight, and can help establish (and independently verify) the character, conduct, and suitability of a parent to have custody of your child.
- Background Investigation. Research into a parent’s background can be invaluable in a child custody investigation. This sort of research can determine whether a parent has the means to look after the child (or the means to pay child support if a parent is delinquent), what the parent’s financial standing is, and whether the parent has a criminal record of any kind.
Common Child Custody Case Types:
Every case is different - but there are some common types of cases that we handle on a regular basis, and associated tactics that are proven to be successful in protecting the best interests of the child in these situations.
Ahead of a custody battle it’s common for us to receive requests from parents who fear that they will face an unreasonable - and untruthful - former spouse in the courtroom. In this case, we conduct an investigation aimed at arming you with the facts. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty - but if you are going to face false accusations, it’s better to have the evidence on hand to disprove them.
In these sorts of cases, we use the following tactics:
- Surveillance of a parent while the child is present and in their general day to day life.
- Gathering of witness statements to attest to the conduct and charater of a parent and
- Conduct a background investigation into one or both parents to establish whether they are good financial standing, and if they have any criminal record.
Custody Agreement Violations
If you suspect your former spouse is violating their custody agreement - or even worse, you know it’s happening on a daily basis - then you need evidence to prove this. A private investigator can gather evidence of regular custody violations, including:
- Late to pick up or drop off your child when you are transferring custody
- Violation of custody terms - for instance, if they fail to take your child to appointments, etc.
- Presence of unsavory or unsatisfactory associates when the parent has custody of the child
Child Abuse and Neglect
Child abuse and neglect are serious matters that require immediate intervention. Common evidence of abuse or neglect includes:
- Black eyes, bruises, or other noticeable bodily harm
- Underperformance at school
- Mood swings or abrupt negative responses
- Desire to no longer be around a specific person
- Stealing from others or regularly asking for food money (when already provided)
- A malnourished or underfed appearance
- An unkempt or unwashed appearance
If any of these signs appear to be present, then you need to act. Private investigators can provide quick confirmation of abuse or neglect, and pass evidence to you and the police. Unfortunately, the burden is on you to provide evidence of this behavior ahead of any court date, and before any accusations or allegations are made. If you claim that your child is being abused and are unable to back this up, this can hurt your chances of getting partial or full custody of your child.
On the contrary, if false accusations have been made against you by your ex-spouse, a private investigator will gather evidence of proper conduct to refute the allegations, putting the burden of proof back on the accuser.
Cohabitation is defined as living with someone for an extended period of time. If your former spouse is living with someone, this can reduce your alimony obligations, alter the child custody situation, or reduce or change child support payment requirements.
Fortunately, proving cohabitation is a simple matter. In these cases, private investigators aim to collect the following evidence:
- Verified identity of key individuals - usually the person that your former spouse is living with. This can take the form of photographs etc of them and this person at an address
- Testimony from key individuals. This is necessary to establish that there is a relationship, and that both people share the same address.
- Financial Evidence. Often it is possible to find key financial assets or obligations that are shared between your former spouse and their partner.
- Background Checks. A background check can establish residency by revealing whether your spouse has changed their address with their bank, cell phone company, or credit card company. It can also reveal whether they have any bills in their name at their new address.
Failure to Pay Child Support
If your child’s parent has failed to pay child support or alimony, and you believe they possess the means to do so, private investigators can collect evidence of this. Often, we handle cases where a parent has come into money, or has a new job that they have not reported - allowing them to collect income while ignoring their obligation to their child. In these cases, use the following tactics to determine whether they have the ability to pay:
- Financial asset check to assess current streams of income, both “above the table” and “under the table”
- Background checks to determine if they have bills or cell phones
- Surveillance to collect evidence that they are attending a place of work, or are in possession of assets
Hiring an investigator is not an every day process, and that means you likely have a lot of questions about what to look for and what skills they should possess. Rather than doing a search for yourself and possibly having them run off with your money, our team will connect you with the most skilled investigator in your area, with no minimums or retainers. You’ll have on demand investigator support when you need it, from gathering evidence to supporting your claim in court.
Video by Stacy Blackburn