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Top 5 PI Tips: Surveillance In a Child Custody Case

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Private investigators in North America are often called upon to investigate cases where one parent believes that the other parent is mistreating their child. While these cases are often difficult to work with, any good private investigator will want to help get to the truth of the matter. After all, everyone wants a child to grow up in a safe and loving environment.

The Smith Investigation Agency is no different. We often get calls inquiring into this type of service. All of our investigators in across Toronto, the GTA, Ottawa and the rest of Canada are experienced in how to handle child custody cases.

That being said, It might surprise you to learn that the primary technique a private investigator in North America uses in a child custody case is: surveillance. But what does this mean? And how does a private investigator use this technique to uncover evidence?

There is where we come in! To better help you understand when and how surveillance is used in child custody cases, we’ve put together a list of our top 5 PI surveillance tips.

PI Tip 1: Is the Parent Under the Influence?

The majority of people in this world can have a drink or two with dinner and then enjoy an evening with their family or friends. There are others, however who can’t stop at just one drink. They continue drinking until they put themselves and the others around them in danger. Unfortunately, there are some parents out there that fall into this category. They just can’t or don’t know how to help themselves.

Parents that use and abuse alcohol and/or narcotics around their child is a serious problem for two reasons. The first is that it is difficult for addicts to make good, rational decisions. The second is that addicts often pass out. These two points are problems because they put the child’s wellbeing at risk. If you can’t make good decisions or aren’t even conscious, your child can get into some serious trouble. In legal terms, this considered child neglect because the parent is incapable of taking care of their child’s basic needs, which includes supervision.

Using different surveillance techniques, a private investigator can gather evidence to present in court to prevent the parent from seeing their child— at least until they get clean.

The primary ways in which a private investigator will use surveillance techniques in this situation is to follow the parent. Quite often, the parent will leave the child to go and purchase drugs or alcohol. In other situations, the drug dealer will even visit the parent’s house. In both situations, the private investigator needs to assess and record the parent’s actions.

PI Tip 2: Does the Parent Leave the Child Unattended?

Many parents will tell you that taking time away from their child is a necessary part of the relationship. Hiring a baby sitter to go out on a date, attend a work event, or even go out for a day with friends is a perfectly acceptable way to handle this situation.

Some parents however, miss the critical step in which they find someone to look after their child while they are away or out. Leaving a child unattended, and this especially applies to young children, is considered child neglect. The reason is because a child doesn’t yet have the skills to properly take care of him or herself.

A private investigator will set up surveillance outside the parent’s home during times the parent is supposed to be with their child. If the parent leaves without the child for whatever reason, the private investigator will take note, and even follow the parent to uncover what they’re really up to. This evidence is then given to the client, who can use it in court to change the current custody arrangement.

PI Tip 3: Is the Parent Breaking the Rules?

In many divorce cases, parents are given strict rules that they must follow at all times. For example, when the parent has their child, they must spend time with their child. They cannot leave their child with someone else, or even worse, alone. In these situations, if the other parent suspects that this is occurring, the courts can change the details of custody, even taking them away from the parent breaking the rules.

For these types of cases, the private investigator will conduct pretty simple surveillance. This might include, parking in a car nearby to watch the parent when their children are in their care. If the parent leaves the house, the private eye will then follow them to see where they’re going. Part of the surveillance work requires the private investigator to record this information and present it to the client. If done correctly and legally, this information can then be used in court.

PI Tip 4: Does the Parent Display Signs of Violence?

There’s a fine line when it comes to disciplining a child. In today’s modern society, many better understand the harm that comes from spanking (or other forms of physical punishment). It is a horrible thing to accuse someone of, however we’ve unfortunately been called into investigate some pretty terrible cases where the child’s safety and wellbeing is a serious concern.

Catching violent behavioru in action is often difficult for a private investigator in North America. The reason for this is because surveillance laws make it illegal to set up recording devices within a person’s home. Even if the parent’s violent outbursts were captured in this way, the evidence would not count in court. Therefore, the private investigator must use different surveillance techniques to get the proof they need.

The most common type of surveillance used in this situation is to sit in a parked vehicle outside the parent’s home. The second is to follow the parent and child as they interact outside of the home. In this situation, interviews with the child or other people involved in the child’s life are great assets in uncovering the truth about a violent parent.

PI Tip 5: What Do the Neighbours Say?

This brings us to our next PI Tip. Interviews might not seem like they qualify as surveillance. In reality however, private investigators use this technique because it helps them to know what to look for as they conduct their investigation.

Neighbours, family members, coworkers and any other person who knows the parent in question will provide valuable surveillance on their own. They can inform the private investigator about any illegal activities, drug use, or other inappropriate behaviour.

These interviews help to inform the private investigator’s methods and approach for the type of surveillance they will try. For example, if a neighbor tells the private investigator that the parent loves to have wild parties while the children are present—this is a huge red flag. The private investigator can use this information to set up surveillance, likely watching from a nearby, parked car to capture proof of the parent’s behavior.

BONUS PI Tip: Stay Calm and Let the Case Unfold

When working with a private investigator, the best thing you can do is let the private investigator work on the case in their own way. For example, their surveillance methods might not seem like they work, or that they’re working fast enough. You need to remember that a private investigator has your best interests at heart and sometimes surveillance can take a long time.

If you are working with a good private investigator, they will continue to update you on the case. If they feel that they’ve uncovered or are starting to uncover suspicious activity via surveillance, they will let you know. If however, they determine that your child is safe with their other parent, they will also let you know.

At the end of the day, it’s the private investigator’s job to uncover the truth and dig through the facts— and only the facts. If your goal is to take your child’s other parent to court, the private investigator will attempt to get the evidence you need to support your case.

Do you need a private investigator to conduct surveillance? The Smith Investigation Agency can help! With over 10 years of experience, we’ve handled many surveillance child custody cases. Contact us today for more information: or 647-479-8474.

About the Author

Whitney Joy Smith

Whitney Joy Smith is a prominent figure in the field of private investigation and security, serving as the founder and CEO of The Smith Investigation Agency Inc., Smith Security Inc., and Training Centre Canada, as well as a sitting politician.

With a remarkable journey that began in the early 2000s, Whitney's professional background as a private investigator is underscored by her unwavering dedication to the role. Born in Canada and having spent her early years between Canada and the United States, Whitney possesses a unique perspective shaped by her experiences in both countries. This background equips her with an in-depth understanding of the intricacies of private investigative laws, regulations, and operational standards in North America.

Throughout her career, Whitney has garnered numerous industry awards and accolades. She takes great pride in working closely with her continually expanding agency, striving to elevate industry standards, maintain compliance, and effectively meet the diverse investigative needs of clients.

Whitney actively engages in various membership, committee, board and support roles, demonstrating her commitment to the industry and professional community. She is affiliated with all local chambers, associations and more.

Whitney's wealth of experience is not limited to her professional achievements; her thought-provoking articles have been featured in publications ranging from Readers Digest, Cosmopolitan, Huffington Post, and Mens Health to Business News Daily. She constantly seeks to redefine standards and push the boundaries of excellence within the private investigative and security fields.

To discover more about Whitney Joy Smith and the dedicated team at The Smith Investigation Agency Inc., visit our website to learn more.

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