Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Child Custody Investigations

When choosing a private investigator for your child custody case it’s important that the investigator you choose is well-versed in child welfare issues, know the local laws and are experienced in interviews and mobile and stationary surveillance as well as utilizing covert surveillance equipment when the case calls for it. You need an investigator who is also prepared and sensitive to the situation and prepared to testify in court should the case call for it, which in our experience has happened many times.

Child custody cases are notoriously messy and complicated. They result when one parent, or sometimes other family member, either wants full custody of the child(ren) or to change a current custody arrangement in some way. Many times these cases are justified, but other times they are not. Child custody cases can become a battle ground of accusations, allegations and exaggerations with a child caught in the middle.

The investigator’s job is always to find and document the facts. To do that effectively an investigator’s work starts when the call first comes in deciding whether or not to take the case, spending time thoroughly preparing the case and then conducting surveillance and documenting the evidence.

Many private investigators that routinely take child custody cases, and this is true of Mission Possible Investigations, do not readily accept every case that comes in. They often have to turn down work because the potential client is simply not credible or does not have the right to access the information about the child. There are times too when the potential client will ask for information the private investigator cannot obtain legally. These are situations when a private investigator do what is ultimately best for the client and the child.

One of the more important questions an investigator must ask when assessing a child custody case is why there should be a change in custody. What is the ultimate reason for the investigation and goal for the case? This may not seem like an important question to the client but the overall strategy of the investigation depends on it.

If you are unsure if your suspicions warrant a child custody investigation, the following is a list of common scenarios and considerations Mission Possible Investigation has investigated:

  • The overall safety of the child is in question. There may be allegations or suspicion of physical or sexual abuse. Many times there is an allegation that the custodial parent may begin living with someone who is a known sex offender or has domestic violence or sexual assault allegations in their history. These cases often require the investigator to confirm if in fact the subject is living with someone and what if any criminal background or allegations have been brought against this person.
  • The custodial parent may not be living with someone new but is leaving the child unattended with someone they shouldn’t or bringing the child into unsafe environments.
  • There are issues with drugs or alcohol. The custodial parent may be using drugs or alcohol around the child or leaving the child with babysitters while they go out to bars or parties. The occasional use of a babysitter is common and usually acceptable in most cases unless otherwise stipulated in the custody terms.
  • Also common is when a custodial parent is utilizing babysitters frequently and it has not been approved in the custody arrangement. Either the sitters are somehow inappropriate choices or the length of time the child is left brings into question why the custodial parent has primary custody in the first place.
  • Leaving the child unattended without a sitter is also a common concern when a client is calling regarding a child custody case. Most states do not stipulate how old a child must be before they are left alone. It is usually taken on a case per case basis and how mature the child is and their ability to meet their basic needs and general safety while alone.
  • Finally, the last most frequent scenario for child custody cases is the client is concerned the child is being neglected. Physical neglect is much easier to see and find evidence of rather than emotional or psychological neglect. Surveillance can usually provide the basics if a child looks like their hygiene is being neglected or basic needs are not being met.

Just the facts: A good investigator will and should document only the facts of the investigation. Assumptions, speculation and the investigators own parenting bias should not play a role in the outcome and recommendations from the investigation. Make sure when you are choosing an investigator you are seeking someone fair and impartial and not someone who is easily swayed by unsubstantiated facts. It may not seem fair to the client that the investigator remains unbiased but in the long run, especially if the case goes to court, it’s critical to the outcome of the investigation.

While it’s easy to judge another’s actions based on how one perceives good and bad parenting, it has no place in an investigation. Some investigators can get emotionally compromised in child custody investigations listening to the horror stories client’s spin for investigators. Investigators want to please their clients particularly when a child’s life and their safety are involved.

But to ensure the best for everyone involved, the facts and only the facts should be presented to the client and to the courts.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Stalking Safety Planning

Very often stalking victims need to build their own case before law enforcement will get involved. Even then, cases are sometimes difficult to prove. In some jurisdictions, these cases end up with a victim facing serious physical harm before they are taken seriously.

Laws have come a ways since the early 90s when many states were just beginning to enact legislation. Technology has often kept one step ahead of the laws though leaving victims still vulnerable. While almost all states have a provision in the law that covers cyber stalking, the laws are new and few cases involving use of social networking sites have been prosecuted.

According to the National Violence Against Women Prevention Resource Center, stalking is defined as a repetitive pattern of unwanted, harassing or threatening behavior committed by one person against another. Acts include: telephone harassment, being followed, receiving unwanted gifts, and other similar forms of intrusive behavior. All states and the federal government have passed anti-stalking legislation.

According to the National Stalking Resource Center, 1,006,970 women and 370,990 men are stalked annually in the U.S. That means that roughly 1 in 12 women and 1 in 45 men will be stalked in their lifetime.

Safety Planning for Stalking Victims

Stalking is not just one incident, it's a variety of activities over time intended to cause fear in the victim. The following are some options a victim can utilize to begin to build a legal case and protect themselves. These are mentioned as options and not directions as a "one size fits all" approach does not work with all cases.

Know the early warning signs
Always use your instincts. If something in someone else's behavior causes you concern or fear, don't dismiss those feelings and break off contact early on. It's often better to hurt someone's feelings then be terrorized later. It's important to set firm clear boundaries and stick to them especially in the face of erratic behavior. Plan for safety and seek help.

Know your surroundings
Begin to look at how safe you are at home, work and other places you frequent. Creating a plan for safety is important before something happens. Talk to law enforcement, victim services or a private investigator that can help you assess safety in your home, workplace and in your travels. Talk to those around you and let them know what's going on and provide a picture of the stalker if you have one. The more support you have the better. If a stalker is bothering friends or family, make sure they have a safety plan too.

No Contact Demand
Issue a no-contact statement only once. A stalker must hear or read on only one occasion that you do not want any contact. This must be done only once. Any contact on your part after the no contact statement will only be viewed by the stalker as hope and they will persist. A stalker will assume if you break the no contact once, you may do it again and their actions will continue.

Document Everything
It is important that you document everything that occurs. The time, date, type of contact and context of the contact should be recorded in a journal. Write down what happens and keep this with you. Save voice mails, e-mails, texts, instant messages and any other form of communication you receive. If the stalker calls 100 times each day, note the times and dates of the calls. This begins to lay the foundation for your legal case.

Google Yourself
Identify where your personal information can be found. Take note of what personal information you have out there. If you can find it, so can anyone else. Note where personal information about you can be found; phone companies, utilities, rent or own your home, internet, social media and other sources like credit card companies or even your local gym. Talk to all your sources and let them know you have some privacy concerns. Ask how you can keep your information private even if someone calls identifying themselves as you. It's important to remember that the stalker may have personal identifying information about you already like your name, address, social security number or other passwords that can help them gain other information illegally.

Assess Your Technology
Be careful putting too much personal information on the Internet. It’s one of the easiest, free ways people gather information. What other forms of technology are you using on a regular basis such as the computers or cell phones? Technology is often a stalker's best friend. With the use of GPS, spyware and cell phone tracking sometimes stalkers don't even need to leave their homes to know exactly where you are and your activities. If you suspect that your stalker is using these types of technology, seek help from experts to assess your situation.