How much does a private investigator cost, and do you need one during divorce?

Man with a camera investigating

You’re sure your spouse is cheating or hiding assets from you, so you want to file for divorce. To uncover proof of his or her misdeeds, you decide to hire a private investigator. Upon searching online for private investigators prices, you found this blog. You’ve come to the right place! Not only does this blog cover how much does a private investigator cost, it explains how to find out whether you need one in the first place.

Show me the money: How much do private investigators cost?

According to the website Thumbtack, private detectives cost between $99 and $150 per hour, with the national average cost of private investigator services coming in around $105 per hour. You may also need to pay for any expenses the investigator accrues in association with the investigation, including mileage, airfare and hotel if they need to travel out of town, fees for legal documents, etc.

Most P.I.s will also require that you pay a retainer upfront—which varies widely depending on the type of investigation—but you can expect to pay a retainer of about $1,500 and up. The investigator will bill against that fee based on the hours they spend following your spouse around or tracking down whatever information you want the investigator to find.

Keep in mind, there are other types of private investigators aside from those who follow people around to prove someone’s cheating, gambling, putting children in unsafe situations and so on. Some private investigators—called forensic investigators—are hired to handle complex investigations like asset tracking or to look into shady business deals.  

Different types of investigators command different fees, and you will typically pay a whole lot more for a forensic investigation than you will to find out if your spouse is having an affair. Forensic investigators usually charge more per hour and require a higher retainer.

So how much are private investigator costs overall? In general, I’ve seen clients pay anywhere from about $5,000 for a basic, follow-around type of investigation and up to tens of thousands of dollars for complex forensic investigations. It all depends on the unique aspects of your individual case. Before you pull the trigger and hire a private investigator though, it’s really important to speak with a reputable divorce attorney first.

Do you really need to hire a private investigator?

Whether you need a private investigator and how much does it cost for a private investigator are two things our firm covers during the initial client consultation and comprehensive case review I conduct with potential clients. Those clients walk out the door knowing exactly how we would approach their case, and that includes whether or not a private investigator is warranted.

Keep in mind, many divorce attorneys won’t take a deep dive into your case the first time you meet, especially those who offer free initial consults. Our firm does charge a nominal fee for our case reviews but you will have most if not all of your initial questions answered, along with a clear understanding of the proposed strategy and next steps for your case. In all honesty, I have never had a prospective client tell me that they didn’t find our consults beneficial.

The question is: Do you need to spend money on a private investigator? And what benefit are you going to gain from spending it?

When you’re looking at the costs of a private investigator, you need to take a hard look at what you are really trying to figure out. If you’re trying to get evidence that the other party is wasting community assets by frequenting hotels with hookers or leaving a bar before driving to pick up your child, I do understand the value of a private investigator for those limited circumstances.

When hiring a private investigator is a waste of money during divorce

People frequently walk into our Fort Worth law office-bound and determined to hire a private investigator but our attorneys will talk them out of it when we believe it would be a waste of money in their situation.

For one thing, divorce lawyers already investigate many things in the realm of affairs, money and other habits during the discovery phase of a divorce case (much like a private investigator performs discovery services). We can find out a lot about a spouse’s misbehavior and finances from financial records, bank accounts, credit card statements, credit reports, property records, etc.

In Texas, it’s also a waste of money to hire a private investigator to get evidence that your spouse is cheating if you don’t have much if anything of value in your community estate. Why waste money to find out if your spouse is cheating if it doesn’t benefit you, aside from confirming what you already suspect?

Now, if you do share substantial assets in your community estate, hiring a private investigator could be worth the money.

While Texas is a no-fault state, meaning you can get a divorce without proving fault, proving certain fault grounds can have an impact on how a couple’s community estate would be divided. In other words, if you can prove your spouse had an affair, and that affair was the fault that led to the break-up of your marriage, the judge could agree to an unequal division of the marital estate in your favor.

Learn more about how fault grounds in Texas work in this recent post.

How to save money on a private investigator during divorce

One of the big problems I see pertaining to private investigator costs, and it’s not necessarily the P.I.s fault, is when the client doesn’t come prepared with information the investigator needs to efficiently investigate their case. Be sure to gather any information that would be helpful to the investigator before you meet.

If you just let a private investigator go on a wild goose chase, and you don’t know where to send them to investigate or tell them what they’re supposed to be looking for, it’s going to take a lot more time and money to find the evidence you need. You’ll literally pay them to stay out there on your case 24/7 and will end up with a whole lot of crickets and hours upon hours of video to review.

The court won’t watch all of that footage. Your attorney and private investigator will need to spend time (which costs you more money) filtering through the evidence, developing a strategy for introducing that evidence and determining the best way to present the evidence from a technology perspective. There are a lot of moving parts to the private investigator scenario that people don’t really think about.

If you must hire a private investigator, do your research first

Again, I recommend speaking with a divorce attorney before hiring a private investigator or researching how much is a private investigator going to cost. Your attorney can recommend a reputable investigator to you and provide insight on private investigator cost details.

If you do decide to go it alone and hire a private investigator, the best first step is to make sure the detective has current investigator credentials and is licensed by your state to perform private investigations. You can learn more about what the Texas Association of Licensed Investigators requires in order to license a P.I. here. If you don’t live in Texas, check with your state’s licensing bureau.

While how much is a private investigator going to cost be may be important to you, P.I. services are similar to other goods and services you buy—you get what you pay for. Be sure to read online reviews and ask for references before turning your retainer over. Getting a referral from a trusted resource, like an attorney, financial advisor or law enforcement officer is always a good idea.

We can help investigate your Texas divorce

If you’re wondering how much does a private investigator cost in Texas and have questions about divorce, child custody, infidelity, wasting of community funds, hiding of assets and so on, our divorce lawyers Fort Worth TX are here to help.

To schedule an in-depth, confidential case review with our founder attorney Justin Sisemore, please call our Fort Worth law office at (817) 336-4444 or connect with us online.

Photo Source: Canva.com

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