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Can I Hire a Private Investigator to Catch My Spouse Cheating?

Michael Tierney
September 25, 2022

The last thing anyone wants to believe is that their spouse is cheating on them, but it is an issue that arises in some relationships. Infidelity is one of the most heartbreaking betrayals your spouse can inflict on you. When you marry your spouse, you agree to remain loyal to each other for as long as you are together. If your spouse steps outside the marriage to engage in an extra-marital affair, they are disrespecting the agreement that marriage signifies.

The issue is that your spouse will not be open about their affair and will attempt to hide it to avoid the consequences. This can make it difficult to determine whether your spouse is cheating on you or if you are misreading the situation. The burden lies in proving your spouse's infidelity.

Typically, some telltale signs can indicate your spouse's infidelity, but using them as confirmation of infidelity is not viable. Sometimes the signs of infidelity are similar to other issues that could stress your spouse. This usually means you will have to find a way to prove it more definitively, especially if it seems like divorce is imminent.

This has led some people to hire a private investigator to secure physical evidence of their spouse's infidelity. The concern with hiring a private investigator is ensuring that doing so will not jeopardize your case.

What is a Private Investigator?

You might already know what a private investigator is, and you may have an image of a noir-era private eye complete with fedora, trench coat, and New York accent. While this image is reminiscent of classical literature and media, the reality of a private investigator is far more mundane.

While early private detectives specialized in observation and note-taking, their modern counterparts are more discreet and use more advanced tools to secure the evidence their employers need. Private investigators might take different approaches to their jobs but tend to follow a similar routine.

Unlike the noir-era investigators portrayed in television dramas, the odds of a modern private eye being armed are pretty low. This is especially true if they are the sort of investigator who specializes in civil investigations. While firearms are a rare sight on a private investigator, the other tools of the trade are far more likely to be used by any professional you hire—namely, the wide range of surveillance equipment common to the trade of private investigation.

Private Investigator Surveying Location

Where long nights of observation and note-taking were once essential to the role, high-powered cameras, audio recorders, and GPS devices have modernized private investigation. These devices allow modern investigators to gather hard evidence from a distance with minimal risk of letting the subject of their investigation realize they are present. As a result, modern private investigators have become more akin to covert observers than private officers.

Solution The primary job they are hired for these days is investigating civil matters like infidelity.

The real question is whether hiring one for your purposes is a good idea.

Can You Hire a Private Investigator Over Infidelity?

You can hire private investigators for any number of reasons by average citizens, including catching your spouse in the act of infidelity. Hiring a private investigator for this usually involves them documenting video or photographic evidence of their time with their lover. This evidence can prove that your spouse is guilty of infidelity, which can be submitted during divorce negotiations. While divorce is probably not the result you wanted, any evidence gathered by a private investigator that proves infidelity is admissible in court.

The legality of hiring a private investigator is not in question, as any licensed practitioner can legally observe your spouse if they are suspected of infidelity. The practicality of hiring a private investigator is another concern that might give you pause when contemplating the decision. Should you investigate on your own or hire an investigator? The question is worth asking. However, there are a few advantages to hiring a private investigator you would not enjoy if you decided to investigate yourself.

The most important advantage of hiring a private investigator is their experience in the role of covert investigation. Unless you have a history of investigating without being discovered, you will be at a severe disadvantage when trying to gather hard evidence of your spouse's infidelity. Private investigators have skills dedicated to gathering information and seamlessly integrating themselves into the environment. This skill for integration allows them to blend in where you might stick out if your spouse were to notice you.

Catching an Unfaithful Spouse

In addition to their experience, private investigators have greater freedom to conduct their investigation without rushing. You likely have a full-time job or possibly children to care for that precludes you from being able to stake out your spouse's current location.

Conversely, a private investigator performs these stakeouts and investigations as their full-time job. This allows them to take their time and gather as much information as possible without worrying about other engagements.

Finally, a private investigator will always be a stranger to your spouse and not someone they will see coming. This gives private investigators an element of surprise that you will never be able to have. Since you are a known quantity, your spouse will be familiar with your vehicle, behaviors, and appearance.

Seeing signs of you when they are out with their lover will put them on high alert and possibly compromise your efforts. Anonymity is key when trying to catch your spouse in the act, but it is not something you will have.

Solution Private investigators provide an important service to those in desperate need of closure about their spouses suspected infidelity. The evidence they gather is legally admissible in court, which makes this service even more important.

Unfortunately, there are a few caveats that private investigators must meet if you want to hire them.

What a Private Investigator Cannot Do

Despite being hired to investigate private citizens, private investigators are not granted special privileges that exceed those of an officer of the law. Private investigators are beholden to the letter of the law and must not violate it to accomplish their goal.

Any evidence obtained by illicit means is disqualified, and the investigator risks facing charges for their violations. The restrictions imposed on private investigators are similar to those placed on police officers, but a few are unique to the investigator industry. The biggest restriction placed on private investigators relates to their law enforcement counterparts.

The most important restriction is that private investigators can never identify or present themselves as an officer of the law. This means they cannot claim to be an officer to your spouse as a pretense for accessing information, nor wear a police uniform and badge. Impersonation of an officer is a serious felony that could land your private investigator in serious legal trouble.

Investigator Accessing Protected Information

Aside from being forbidden from identifying as an officer, private investigators are prohibited from:

  • Trespassing: A private investigator is not permitted to enter a property without consent from the owner. Public venues are not restricted, but they cannot enter your home, your spouse's office, or the home of your spouse's lover without consent from the appropriate people.
  • Tamper With Mail: A private investigator is not exempt from mail tampering laws. They are not permitted to take or open any private correspondence belonging to anyone other than themselves. This rule is not suspended when they are hired to investigate your spouse, meaning they cannot take your spouse's mail for the sake of their investigation.
  • Access Protected Information: A private investigator is prohibited from accessing federally protected information belonging to another person. Federally protected information includes bank accounts, financial records, and phone records. Even police officers are only able to access that information with a warrant. Private investigators have no recourse to access that information.

These restrictions exist to protect the rights of your spouse and any other citizen that they might investigate. While they are extremely important to preserving the Constitutional rights of American citizens, another major restriction is imposed on private investigators. Unlike the others, this restriction relates specifically to the profession of private investigators rather than the investigation process. This restriction is about licensing private investigators that allow them to practice as an investigator legally.

Private Investigator Licensing

While the specifics of what a private investigator must do to practice their craft is not necessarily your concern, it can impact your ability to hire one. Every state in the United States has laws regulating the licensing requirements of a private investigator. While these laws might vary by state, the universal requirement is that private investigators must possess a valid license. Without such a license, any private investigator who offers their services is violating the law. Currently, there are only 5 states that do not require private investigators to possess a license:

  • Alaska
  • Idaho
  • Mississippi
  • South Dakota
  • Wyoming

The remaining 45 states maintain strict licensing requirements that prohibit private investigators from operating professionally without meeting them. Listing the licensing requirements of all 45 states would be impractical for this article, but a few requirements are shared across multiple states. These are:

  • The private investigator must be at least 21 years old to apply for a license. (Some states have raised the age requirement to 25.)
  • The private investigator must have a high school diploma or an equivalent degree (i.e., a GED).
  • The private investigator must be a United States citizen or have residency in the country.

There are a few educational and supplementary requirements that are state specific, but these minimum requirements are the most commonly shared across the country. If the private investigator you are considering does not have a valid license and you are not a citizen of the 5 exception states, hiring the investigator is a poor decision.

Any evidence submitted by an unlicensed investigator in states where one is required is void, and the investigator will be charged for failing to have the proper credentials. Unfortunately, this is not the only concern when it comes to the licensing of your investigator.

A Licensed Private Investigator

Depending on the circumstances, your spouse's lover might be across state borders. This might impact your ability to retain the services of a local investigator since they might have to follow your spouse to another state. Most states allow investigators to conduct their business across borders because their investigation began in the state where they are licensed.

Suppose you attempt to send a local investigator across state lines to begin the investigation. In that case, they might be unable to fulfill the contract since the investigation did not begin in your state. There are exceptions, as 8 states allow private investigators to conduct their business without a secondary license. These states are:

  • California
  • Louisiana
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Florida
  • Tennessee
  • Georgia

Ultimately, your investigator will require a license to look into your spouse's potential infidelity. If they do not meet the state requirements, they will be unable to fulfill the contract. If you hire an investigator who meets these requirements, you should have little trouble retaining their services to determine if your spouse is cheating on you.

Learn the Law

While you are probably hoping that the investigator's work proves unnecessary and your spouse is loyal, there remains the possibility that they will return with evidence of infidelity. While this evidence is likely a heartbreaking development, the evidence can help ensure that you can separate from a disloyal spouse.

Unfortunately, infidelity is a common cause of divorce, but the victim of the infidelity is generally treated favorably compared to your spouse. We realize that is cold comfort in the face of divorce proceedings, but it might help you remain confident during the proceedings.

A Person Learning the Law

Despite the advantage inherent in being a victim of infidelity, you should consider doing a little more research into divorce. Knowing about certain situations that might arise in divorce proceedings can help prevent you from being blindsided. Fortunately, this information is more easily accessed than it once was. Regardless, we hope this article has proven helpful despite the unfortunate circumstances.

Have any further questions on the topic of divorce or anything divorce-related? If so, be sure to leave a comment down below, and we'll gladly assist you however we can!

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Written By:
Michael Tierney

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