Infidelity. Divorce. Child custody. Abuse. Domestic cases are some of the toughest, most personal, and highest-stakes jobs we work.
They usually require hours of tedious surveillance, careful diplomacy, and the unpleasant likelihood of delivering bad news — or even worse, no news at all.
And behind all that, there’s the potential for dangerous confrontations, always lurking. Oh, and did we mention the client’s desperation, and the pressure from certain attorneys to cut corners and peek in a few windows to “obtain results”?
Anyone who does this work for any length of time develops a healthy armor of emotional distance, or even cynicism. Is that ideal? Maybe not. Necessary? Probably. But domestic cases sometimes call for a secret store of empathy, too. The ability to remember what neglected and shattered feels like — or at least, to imagine. But the work also requires the hard-nosed skills of a covert operative: the ability to wait and watch, to stay calm and alert for hours or days or weeks, in the heat of day and dark of night. It requires mastery of surveillance technology and a journalistic ability to tell a story simply and candidly, in a report to some family lawyer. Just the facts, ma’am. Don’t shoot the messenger.
There’s not a lot of room for bullshit in this work. Hard truths must be told, and painful scenes witnessed. This job is not for the faint of heart.
Share your stories about domestic cases. We’re up for anything: surveillance tips, field notes about ethics and evidence, stories about the angry boyfriend who chased your car or the grieving husband and dad whose story twisted your guts. Essays about how you keep your sanity through all the drama and madness.
Email the editor with your pitch. We’ll add to the list below as we post new stories.
Briefings from the Field:
Eavesdropping in a Hotel Room
“A lawyer asked if we could check into a hotel room, next to the room his client’s soon-to-be ex-husband was staying in, and “listen” to whatever he was doing. Lawyer: “You know, use one of those listening devices that amplify sounds.” We said that was called eavesdropping, which in Colorado is a felony, and we turned down the case.
“Later we learned he found another PI to do it.” — Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman, North Denver Investigations, LLC
Burglary and Theft in Suburbia
“Probably our most uncomfortable request came from another lawyer who asked us to enter a home to take something from it under a false pretense. We reminded him that the law calls those actions burglary and theft. His response? ‘Well, use your own judgement.
“We did. We turned down the case.” — Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman
North Denver Investigations, LLC
From the Archives:
Interview with a Family Attorney: Surveillance Ethics, by Hal Humphreys
The PI as Therapist: Who’s Helping Whom?, by Adam Dornfeld (2019)
Garbology 101: Trash Pull Tips for Private Investigators, by Scott Fulmer (2018)
Private Investigators and Honeytrapping, by Susanna Speier (2016)
The Ethics of Honey Traps, by Kevin Macnish (2016)
They Can’t Just Sell Our Child! by Diane M. Bassett (2015)
I’m Calling a PI for the First Time. What Should I Expect? by Keith Owens (2015)
Investigator’s Notebook: Super-Sad True Surveillance Job, by Kim Green (2015)
Every Week, I Talk a Client out of Hiring Me, by Keith Owens (2014)
What I Learned When My Wife Recognized the Signs of Infidelity…In Me, by Ruben Roel (2014)
The Secret of Surveillance, by Matt Grotkowski (2014)
Investigator’s Notebook: I Don’t Always Wear a Trench Coat, by Amy Lynn Burch (2013)
Simple Investigative Techniques for Online Daters, by Maria Coder (2013)
InvestiDate: Author Teaches How to Investigate Your Date, by Kim Green (2013)
Dude, Where’s My Wife? by Darryl Daugherty (2013)
“I’m comfortable waiting. In fact, I really enjoy it. Waiting gives me a chance to observe things. I listen to conversations and watch behavior. I don’t think an impatient person could do this job. It would be like someone who’s afraid of flying working as a flight attendant.” —Matt Grothowski