Case Study

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Family Law, When to Hire a Private Investigator: A Case Study

By: Rick Johnson


As her 13-year marriage deteriorated and led to divorce, Sharon Newman* wondered if she could still trust herself. “I thought everything was my fault,” recalls Sharon, an Aurora stay-at-home mother in the process of re-entering the job market. “I began to question my gut, the voice inside.”

When her ex-husband started dating another woman a few months after the separation, Sharon wondered if her gut feelings about the woman were an overreaction. Despite her self-doubt, Sharon feared for the safety of her two children. Her ex-husband, Tom, had mentioned that his new girlfriend, Karen, had children, but that she had lost custody of them. Sharon’s radar also went up when her two school-age children talked about how much attention Karen demanded of their father when they were with him.

Sharon started looking for information about Karen on the Internet. She accessed Karen’s Colorado Bureau of Investigation record, which listed a child=abuse conviction and a DUI, among other charges.

“That’s when I freaked and called my divorce attorney, “ Sharon said.

Her attorney recommended that she call Rick Johnson, a private investigator in Denver. Six weeks later, Rick produced a stack of records more than an inch thick that detailed Karen’s contacts with police that ranged from minor charges, such as shoplifting and operating a vehicle without insurance, to more serious charges of negligent child abuse and driving under the influence. The report cost Sharon $3,100. Rick Charged $1,500 up front, and the price increases from there, depending on how much information his clients need.

“But what if something had happened? How could I have looked in my kids’ eyes and said, ‘I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t do anything about it?'”

Many reports are public records that anyone can access, but it’s usually a tedious process. Other records are available only through databases that private investigators have, Rick notes. “The problem comes in the interpretation,” he explains. “Most people can’t read the records and know what all of the terminology means. People who try to conduct their own investigations are going to miss some things.”

With the results of Rick’s investigative work in hand, Sharon had enough information to present to her parent coordinator, a mediator she and Tom hired to help them solve disputes and make decisions. After a series of meetings with Sharon and Tom, the coordinator rules that Karen could not spend any time alone with Sharon’s children.

However, a few days before the ruling, Karen relocated to Texas to live with her mother. So far, she hasn’t returned to Colorado. If Karen returns and continues to have a relationship with Tom, she has to attend a meeting to answer Sharon’s questions.
Sharon is glad she listened to her instincts and hire a private investigator.

There were a lot of reasons for me not to do it,” she says. “I didn’t want to ruin the civil relationship my ex-husband and I had managed to maintain. But what if something had happened? How could I have looked in my kids’ eyes and said, ’I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t do anything about it?’”

[All names have been changed to protect the identities of the children involved.]

Anne Cumming Rice

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