Can You Hire Your Own Child Custody Investigator?


In California, the law sets out a presumption in favor of joint custody. This is because state public policy dictates that frequent and continuing contact with both parents is in the best interests of a child. However, as with almost everything, there are exceptions to this rule.

In some situations, one parent may know that joint custody might put their child at risk or cause physical or emotional harm. Knowing this and proving it to the court are two different things. If the other parent wants custody rights, they will almost certainly present a skewed version of reality to the court. So, how do you show the judge that the other parent engages in potentially harmful behavior?

In movies and television shows, divorcing spouses are regularly hiring private investigators to get proof of infidelity and other types of misconduct. Can an investigator be beneficial to your custody case, as well? Can you hire one to help support your arguments for sole custody?

4 Signs You Should Hire Your Child Custody Investigator

Hiring a child custody investigator can feel like a significant and scary step. After all, you are asking someone else to investigate and potentially conduct surveillance on your soon-to-be ex-spouse or, at a minimum, someone with whom you share a child. In some cases, hiring a child custody investigator is unquestionably the right thing to do. The evidence that he or she gathers could provide you with the evidence you need to obtain a favorable custody arrangement and keep your children out of harm’s way.

Below are four scenarios in which it is highly advisable to hire a child custody investigator:

You Suspect the Other Parent Is Using Drugs or Alcohol

Drug and alcohol use can put children at risk, but it can be hard to prove in court. This is particularly true when it comes to alcohol, as adults are fully within their rights to have alcohol in the house and consume alcohol, so long as they are not in violation of other laws. A private investigator can help determine whether your child’s other parent is using drugs or drinking to excess in a way that puts your child at risk.

You Suspect Other Potentially Risky Adults are in the Home

While courts generally do not consider a parent’s new romantic relationship as a factor in a custody determination. However, this might change if other adults who are in the home put the child at risk or impact the safety of their living conditions. An investigator might conduct background checks on romantic partners or adults who are in the home to see if they have abuse-related conviction or other past issues.

There is Evidence that the Other Parent is Neglecting or Abusing the Children

It’s an unfortunate truth that some parents neglect or intentionally abuse their children. A related and equally unfortunate fact is that many children are scared or embarrassed to tell other adults that they are being abused. In some cases, children may not even understand that abuse and neglect are occurring.

Issues like abuse or neglect are certainly relevant to a child custody determination, and if it is occurring, you need to know. It may be the case that the situation warrants an emergency custody order granting you full custody until it can be further investigated and a permanent custody order is put into place. An experienced investigator can help determine whether abuse or neglect is occurring, and, if so, provide evidence of either.

You are Concerned that Your Children are Not Receiving Appropriate Care

If you are currently sharing custody, you may be concerned that your children are not receiving appropriate care. Inappropriate care does not need to rise to the level of abuse or neglect to be relevant to the court’s child custody determination. It can be something as simple as the other parent not providing an environment conducive to getting schoolwork done or refusing to take your child to his or her extracurricular activities.

A private investigator can observe and investigate what is occurring while your child is with his or her other parent, potentially providing evidence of this kind of parenting. If it is severe enough, it could potentially be relevant to your child custody case.

What Will an Investigator Do?

There are different ways that investigators can help you in a child custody case, including:

  • Conducting background checks on the other parent, their intimate partner, or others that will be in your child’s life to get a picture of their personal and criminal history.
  • Gathering evidence, such as proof that the other parent never spends time with your child, but hires a babysitter to watch the child almost all of the time while they go out and socialize. They can also obtain evidence of substance abuse or having multiple strangers in and out of the home when the child is there.
  • Interviewing witnesses who might have inside knowledge of the other parent’s life and regular activities that they might be hiding.
  • Uncover hidden assets or income if the other parent is wrongfully trying to reduce their child support order by presenting false information to the court. Custody and support determinations often go hand-in-hand.

The specific investigative tactics that your child custody investigator will use in your case will depend on what you suspect is occurring and the evidence you are seeking to obtain.

A Child Custody Investigator is Not a Replacement for an Attorney

Some parents might think that if they are spending the resources to hire a private investigator, they will have all the information they need to prove their case, and there is no need to also hire a child custody attorney. This is a mistake, however.

A private investigator might help you gather evidence, but they are not legal professionals. They do not know the law and how to present their evidence in court and also may not understand the relevance of certain facts to the legal dispute at hand. As a result, if you are considering hiring an investigator to help in your custody case, you should also discuss the matter with an attorney.