Private investigators, adultery and divorce

family law

Private investigators are almost commonplace in popular culture. If one film or TV character suspects their spouse is up to no good, they call a PI. This invariably results in photographic evidence of their partner’s indiscretion, usually infidelity.

But surely this isn’t the case in the real world, right? Actually, using a private investigator is not all that uncommon, especially if one spouse suspects adultery on the part of their partner.

The issue of private investigators was brought to my attention recently by a Daily Telegraph headline. The newspaper reported the case of a man who had allegedly been stalking his ex-wife. She had accused him of hiring two private investigators to follow and photograph her and her new partner. Not only that, he also placed GPS tracking devices on the new couple’s cars.

In a written statement to the court, the wife claimed her former husband’s actions had left her feeling “paranoid, low and depressed”. She became so concerned about being watched that she put up curtains in her house as an addition to the blinds that were already in place.

The ordeal had “been awful for the whole family” and had changed her as a person, she insisted, adding that she had previously been “a confident person and this has been taken away” from her by her husband’s behaviour.

So a very unpleasant situation all over.

But what if I want proof of adultery so I can get a divorce?

Put simply: it’s not necessary.

While the impulse is understandable, hiring a private investigator to gather proof of your spouse’s betrayal is not a practical solution. You run the risk – as the man in the Telegraph story did – of falling foul of the law and facing criminal charges of harassment because he went much too far.

Nobody needs to go to these lengths in order to bring their marriage to an end. I have had many clients who were aggravated by their spouses’ repeated denials of any wrongdoing in the face of mounting suspicion. So if you are having the affair and repeatedly telling your spouse he or she is paranoid, it’s cruel and a Judge won’t be in your side when it all comes out. It’s never a good idea to lie.

True, once your spouse learns of the affair the marriage might then be over quickly, but allowing a spouse to suffer day-in day-out while you have your illicit pleasure is plain wrong and a coward’s way out. The worry that your husband or wife is having an affair can have such a serious psychological impact on someone and it can qualify as your ‘unreasonable behaviour’ – one of the five ways to demonstrate the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage – if it turns out to be true.

But things can also turn out worse. The impact of not knowing and subsequent illness (which I’ve certainly come across several times in my professional career) might even affect the level of financial settlement as one of the factors that are so serious a court cannot ignore. This can lead to an increased financial settlement when all is said and done.

But what if you’re in a position of needing to know?

You know something is happening but your spouse just keeps denying it. Proof of adultery is not necessary if divorce is the aim, but some people are understandably still desperate to know the whole truth. That is where a private investigator can come in handy. A PI will know how far to go and not take steps that constitute illegal activity such as tapping a phone or placing trackers on a car. A PI won’t indulge in harassment.

However, I would strongly urge anyone who is thinking of hiring a private investigator to seek legal advice first to decide if it’s necessary at all. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, do not take steps on your own. Use your self-control. Don’t lose it. Harassing someone, making a show of yourself and ending up in court is not the appropriate way to go and, in the end, you want the Judge firmly on your side, not against you.

Photo by Dave Crosby via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

Marilyn Stowe

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers with clients throughout the country, in Europe, the Far East and the USA.

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1 comment

David Jones - November 14, 2016 at 1:04pm

I completely agree with you that hiring a private investigator is a lot more common than the majority of people would believe but I am a private investigator so I am probably a little biased. I also agree with you that seeking legal advice may be a sensible choice before hiring a private investigator however I completely disagree with you that ‘it’s not necessary’.

I have had clients who have spent 20 years happily married until their partner began an extra-marital affair and the marriage crumbled, despite my clients best efforts their partner refused to admit they had been having the affair and blamed the entire breakdown of marriage on ‘paranoia’ and lack of self-confidence which in turn became the cause of my clients paranoia and lack of self-confidence. The client had spent a number of years looking after their children and as a result of that earned a fraction of her partner who had been steadily progressing through his career. When the process for divorce began my clients partner made settlement offers that would barely see her rehoused.

We suggested conducting surveillance while her partner was away on a ‘business trip’ over a coming weekend and pursued to him to another property. He walked up to the property and let himself in using a key, shortly afterwards he exited the property with a female and young adults. He took the woman and two young adults to a mini-golf where the group were seen laughing and enjoying themselves before heading to a restaurant. In the restaurant my clients wife was openly affectionate towards the woman in front of the two young adults (who we now know to be her children). The evidence was given to our client who explained that she recognised the woman and had asked him about her previously, she described the evidence as ‘life-changing’ and said that she felt she had taken a huge weight off her shoulders knowing that she wasn’t paranoid and all of her suspicion was justified.

The evidence was used in court to show that the relationship had been going on for some time and could well be the cause of the breakdown, although this had an affect on the settlement offer our client said it had provided her with closure and restored her self-confidence.

The surveillance conducted was all perfectly legal and although the husband was not impressed with being caught, nobody had been harassed or caused undue stress. My point is that in many situations the use of a private investigator is in fact necessary, my client had no other way of proving that her partner had been having an affair and the results of the investigation significantly improved her state of mind as well as affecting the outcome of the divorce proceedings.

My final point is that a good private investigator knows what can and cannot be done within the law and should conduct their investigations in a manner that stays within those laws, they should also take reasonable care not to cause the subjects any stress or concern in the process. Choosing the right private investigator will also ensure that the information obtained will be admissible evidence, a reputable firm will be happy to offer free consultation and advise you as to whether or not an investigator will be suitable for your needs.

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