In the divorce process, determining how to fairly divide marital property and share the responsibilities of parenthood are some of the most significant challenges. While a lot couples are often able to form agreements on various subjects (perhaps with the help of mediation), partners may be so polarized on other topics that the final decision must be made by a judge in family court. When the facts of the case are questionable, one or both spouses and/or the judge may order the appropriate type of investigation to uncover more information. This information helps the judge make informed decisions related to child care, child support, property division and more. Spouses may also choose to hire a private investigator when certain concerns involving marital property and/or child safety exist. Regardless of the type of investigation completed, all parties have the right to challenge any recommendations made by the investigator in court.
Custody Investigations May be Requested by Any Party Involved
If a judge feels there is insufficient evidence to make a decision on child custody and/or if there is any suspicion of child abuse, neglect, sexual abuse and beyond, he or she is likely to order an investigation into the lives of the parents and children. Different types of investigations exist and the judge will decide which is most appropriate in each case. When parents cannot agree on custody and/or child visitation arrangements, one or both spouses may also request an investigation. Spouses do not have to be in agreement for the judge to approve the request for an investigation, although all parties should consider the additional time and expense involved before an investigation is initiated. In some cases, mediation may be quicker and more appropriate.
Investigations are Individual to Each Case
When the immediate safety of a child is a concern, an Emergency (Fast Track or Expedited) Investigation is usually requested by the judge and will be completed by an investigator working within California’s Family Court Services (“FCS”). This type of investigation can be completed in as little as one day and allows the judge to make a decision regarding the best temporary placement of any children involved. A court-ordered custody investigation (which is also completed by a FCS investigator) or a more extensive custody evaluation (known as a 730 Evaluation and conducted by a private investigator who meets a minimum set of requirements) may then be ordered following the Emergency Investigation or may be ordered initially when the immediate safety of the children is not an issue.
When Would Parents be Wise to Request a Custody Investigation?
There are many reasons one or both parents may wish to request a child custody investigation during a divorce proceeding. If parents cannot agree on details such as whom should be the primary caregiver and/or the amount of visitation granted to the non-custodial parent, an investigation can help uncover information that allows the judge to make a more informed decision. When there are suspicions that the children may be in danger as a result parental choices that expose them to substance abuse, mental illness, proximity to unsafe friends or acquaintances and beyond, an investigation is definitely in order. The desire of one parent to move away with the children when both parents do not agree with this choice may also warrant a custody investigation.
Dishonestly Regarding Income and/or Assets
Spouses who suspect their partner is hiding one or more sources of income to reduce their child support and/or spousal support payments may have a strong motivation to request an investigation. Generally speaking, spouses with investment income and/or their own business(es) are able to conceal income much more easily than those that receive a paycheck and W-2 forms. There may be concern that marital assets beyond those already disclosed may exist; spouses who have been involved in an extra-marital affair may also be illegally “gifting” marital property to their lover in the hopes of recovering some or all of these assets once the divorce has been finalized.
Private Investigators Not Ordered Through the Court
In some situations, you may wish to talk with your lawyer about the option of hiring a private investigator (PI). Generally speaking, PI’s are able to discover more detailed information than what’s provided through a court ordered investigation. A PI will work hand-in-hand with your lawyer to ensure that any evidence gathered is both relevant and legally admissible in court. Both parties may hire a PI at any time, regardless of whether an additional investigation has already been requested by the court. Although PI’s are considerably more expensive than other options, the cost may be warranted if one spouse suspects the other of concealing significant assets and/or is engaged in child rearing behaviors that may not be uncovered through a traditional custody evaluation.
The Right to Challenge the Findings of Any Investigation
Regardless of which type of investigation has taken place, both parties have the right to challenge any “expert” conclusions presented in court. Bias on the part of the investigator, improper or incomplete collection of evidence, failure to follow procedure and more are all issues which may invalidate statements made by the investigator. Additionally, parents may request the evidence be reviewed by another expert to determine whether the conclusions are consistent. An experienced lawyer will advise you on the best course of action in this situation.
To learn more about how we can help resolve your divorce or family law matter, contact the professionals at the Law Offices of Silky Sahnan at 888-228-1098 to arrange a confidential consultation. We will work together to create a solid strategy to help you move forward with confidence.