You might feel that you want to do some digging in a host of personal realms. Perhaps you suspect that your spouse is having an affair, and you want the goods on him or her. Should you hire a private eye?
The days when you needed compromising pictures of your spouse in the arms of another are long gone. In all states, you can get a divorce on grounds other than adultery. Still, there are people, and you might be one of them, who firmly believe that if you could catch your spouse “in the act,” he or she would “cave in” and give you an enormous settlement rather than risk disclosure of the infidelity.
In our opinion, this works on television and in the movies, but not in real life. Sometimes, the two-timing spouse is relieved to have his or her relationship out in the open; other times, he or she just doesn't care. Paying a private eye, at a hefty hourly rate, usually is not worth it.
There is one exception. If custody is going to be an issue in your case, the work of a private investigator might pay off. If you suspect that your spouse ignores the children or relegates their care to someone else (ranging from grandparents to baby-sitters), or if there is an unknown person living with your spouse and your young children, you might consider calling a detective. Evidence for any of these scenarios could be vitally important in a custody case, particularly if you and your spouse are otherwise equally capable parents.
Finally, here's a word to the wise: Never conduct surveillance yourself. Secret tape recordings of your spouse might prove harmful. In one difficult case, the husband, who sought custody of his two young sons, provoked his wife into an argument while the children were in the same room. Secretly, he taped 10 minutes of his wife yelling and the children crying. The husband played the tape in court. The wife's voice filled the courtroom, sounding shrill on the recording, while the children wailed in the background. The husband lost custody. The wife testified that the husband had started the argument. What kind of father, her lawyer argued, would deliberately subject his children to an argument between their parents to create evidence for court?
You might worry that your spouse has hired a private detective or used other means to track you. Is your phone tapped? Are there hidden microphones in the walls? Sounds like paranoia, and for most people, it is. If you think your line is tapped, have the phone company check your line and phone. If you still feel paranoid, it might be worth your money to have your house checked, but never let your spouse know. (Do it when the children are away.)
Generally, it's against the law to tap a phone line, so don't do it unless you have permission from a court. Furthermore, there is not much to be gained from a phone tap. A recorded phone conversation probably won't do you much good, and could result in your prosecution, unless it somehow directly bears on the issue of custody.
One woman we know lost custody of her daughter because, following a benign voice mail message to her ex, she accidentally failed to turn her cell phone off. With her ex's tape still running, she said terrible things about him to her little boy. The tape was later produced in court—and provided the judge with all the evidence he needed to remove the child from his mother. As the “alienating parent,” she was permitted to see the boy for just an hour a week, in therapy.
The moral here is simple. Always consult with your attorney before engaging in any scheme involving a tap or tape recorder. Be careful when leaving taped messages on machines—while secret tapings may be illegal in your state, your voluntary missives into the void are not. Even if taping is not against the law in your state, your plan might come back to haunt you.