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New Jersey Cohabitation/Alimony And Hiring A Qualified Private Investigator

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New Jersey Cohabitation Investigations And Hiring A Qualified Private Investigator

In my experience as a New Jersey Private Investigator I have investigated multiple marital-related issues including Cohabitation, Alimony Elimination, and Modification as well as Child Custody matters which are somewhat closely related. In 2014, the Alimony and Cohabitation Laws of New Jersey were significantly changed by the New Jersey State Legislature and ultimately signed into law by the governor.  As always, the cohabitation law which evened things up a little for the payor of alimony still provided for the modification or suspension of alimony if it is found the payee of alimony was cohabiting with another.   In September of 2014, Eric S. Solotoff and Eric A. Epstein of Fox Rothschild a Top New Jersey Family Law Firm Co-Authored a Very Informative Article Succinctly Breaking Dow The New Alimony Reform Law, for your convenience I have provided a link to the article

To go back to the subject of this article, which is to assist you in being able to retain the right New Jersey Private Investigator to work your case it is first necessary to have at least a rudimentary understanding of the current law regarding cohabitation and alimony.

Under the revised 2014 statute, the court may suspend or terminate alimony if a payee cohabitates with another person. Pursuant to the revised law, cohabitation involves a mutually supportive, intimate personal relationship in which a couple has undertaken duties and privileges that are commonly associated with marriage or civil union but does not necessarily maintain a single common household.

When assessing whether cohabitation is occurring, the court shall consider the following:

(1) Intertwined finances such as joint bank accounts and other joint holdings or liabilities;

(2) Sharing or joint responsibility for living expenses;

(3) Recognition of the relationship in the couple’s social and family circle;

(4) Living together, the frequency of contact, the duration of the relationship, and other indicia of a mutually supportive intimate personal relationship;

(5) Sharing household chores;

(6) Whether the recipient of alimony has received an enforceable promise of support from another person within the meaning of subsection h. of R.S.25:1-5 (“palimony”); and

(7) All other relevant evidence.

In evaluating whether cohabitation is occurring and whether alimony should be suspended or terminated, the court shall also consider the length of the relationship.  A court may not find an absence of cohabitation solely on grounds that the couple does not live together on a full-time basis.

It is of the utmost importance to do your research on the background of a New Jersey Private Investigator before even contacting him or her

You would be amazed at how often I have been contacted by an individual who neither researched my background nor even reviewed my website which has an extensive amount of information on my background in New Jersey as a private investigator as well as the extensive law enforcement background I possess.  As to my experience as a New Jersey Private Investigator in marital issues, I have investigated numerous cohabitation matters in addition to child custody issues.  A golden rule you should live by is to research the private investigator before even contacting him or her.

One of the methods to employ before contacting a New Jersey Private Investigator you are considering retaining would be to research whether the investigator maintains a professional business website. In my opinion, the maintaining of a professional website is one of best measures in determining the competence of the investigator.  I believe that a private investigator who takes the time to create and maintain a professional and informative website will be predictive of the work product you will receive from that investigator.  On the other hand, a private investigator who creates and maintains a substandard website for public consumption is strongly indicative of someone who is lazy, non-caring, incompetent or all of the above, while demonstrating they just do not have the ability to put a professional face to their business; I can virtually guarantee if you retain a private investigator with either no website or a substandard website, the work product you obtain from this private investigator will not be any better than the worth of their website. I am digressing somewhat from the issue of cohabitation investigations, to obtain more of a perspective on what to look for when hiring a New Jersey Private Investigator, I have linked an article pertaining to just that subject

Contacting a New Jersey Private Investigator for a Cohabitation/Alimony Elimination/Reduction Investigation

When you first contact a New Jersey Private Investigator in regard to a cohabitation investigation, there are several things I would suggest looking out for that could be a sign of a good, honest and competent private investigator.

  1. When you initially contact the investigator do not give out personal identifying information, nothing more should be needed than first names and general locations. If at the point of initial contact the private investigator insists on complete names and addresses, I would politely disengage myself from the call, at an initial consultation no positive identification is needed or should be insisted upon.
  2. If during your initial conversation you begin to feel comfortable with the investigator it would be appropriate to interview the investigator as to his or her experience in cohabitation or other marital investigations. Listen, upon retiring from the Jersey City, New Jersey Police Department after thirty-four-years I had no experience investigating cohabitation cases, however, people trusted my knowledge, the confidence I displayed derived from my knowing the applicable laws relating to cohabitation and alimony, abilities demonstrated in my bio and other such attributes and they gave me a chance; currently I possess multiple references because of the trust placed in me.  While it may seem like I just produced an advertisement for my services, it was more about you trusting your gut instinct.  If you are interviewing someone who may be light on experience at actually investigating cohabitation cases but strong in other areas and most of all you sense he or she is honest, I would say go for it.  There is an abundance of unethical private investigators throughout the United States and you don’t want to hire one because it could turn into a nightmare.
  3. One of the first questions an honest and competent private investigator should ask you when you are inquiring about a cohabitation alimony reduction case is “DO YOU HAVE AN ATTORNEY”; If the private investigator does not ask you this question during the initial stages of your first conversation, I recommend disengaging yourself from the interview and contact the next investigator on your list. This is one of the first questions I will always ask a potential client, and without fail, if the client tells me he has not consulted an attorney I advise him or her that in most instances it would be advisable to do so.

While there could be a very valid reason as to why you have or have not contacted an attorney in order to see how he or she recommends proceeding at the very least the private investigator should ask the question.  In the past, I have been asked to give legal advice something which I always caution potential clients I am not qualified to do. However, oftentimes the potential client will have a “layman’s knowledge” of the Cohabitation and Alimony Laws in New Jersey and they want to conduct an investigation in order to obtain more information before retaining an attorney, I think this reasoning is sound. I believe it is possible to conduct a two-week investigation and come away with a feeling as there is a case worth pursuing, or quite possibly there is no evidence of Cohabitation.

4. During your initial interview with a New Jersey Private Investigator you might be considering hiring for your cohabitation alimony reduction case the first critical subject to discuss is “who is going to investigate the case”?

I have to laugh at some of the flashy big-shot private investigation firms with huge advertising bills paying for what can best be described as cheesy advertising. Usually, the first thing these private investigators will cite is how large their businesses are; while the size of a private investigation firm may be useful when representing corporations and lawyers, you don’t want a huge firm to handle a marital investigation such as cohabitation or child custody. Cohabitation and Child Custody Investigations need to receive personalized attention from a private investigator who actually cares and who is “on the ground” during the very personal investigation.  What you often find and should guard against when hiring a private investigator for a Cohabitation or Child Custody Case is the investigator who is going to take your money and farm out the case to sub-contractors, something that often happens in New Jersey. It goes something like this: a) you hire a private investigator who falsely claims to have offices throughout New Jersey, b) unbeknownst to the client the private investigator does not actually have offices “throughout New Jersey” as the private investigator claims but is located on the other end of the State, c) as soon as getting your money the private investigator begins to work a backchannel network in order to sub-contract your investigation out to other private investigators who are closer to the job while taking a cut (of your money) off the top, do) you come to find out the private investigator you hired and thought was going to actually work your case is only “managing it”  e) you will never get the opportunity to talk to the investigator or investigators actually working your case because to do so, would be a risk to the investigator you are paying and who is “managing” your case of losing his gravy train.

Richard Brooks a private investigator with officers throughout the south wrote a very informative article regarding the pitfalls of hiring a firm that will subcontract out your case. The piece was published in Pursuit magazine, for your convenience I have provided a link to the article below, however, the most salient point Mr. Brooks points out is:

“The more the case is subcontracted out, the less quality control, the insurance company (insert client), the private investigator, or you (if you subcontracted the case out) will have over the case. Try getting your report and video in on time when the case has been subcontracted out three, or four times. And those same private investigator clients will hire you to sub and will then tell you to make sure YOU don’t subcontract the case to someone else”!  Mr. Brooks goes on to write “it is a head-in-the-sand mentality, a “secret” within the industry that is not really a secret, at least not to us private investigators”.

I am very against private investigators subcontracting their work out to other investigators because of the deleterious effect it has had on the quality of the investigator’s work which of course adversely impacts the client. Because of this, I myself have written an in-depth two-part article after having conducted an undercover investigation of the practice of subcontracting which is not only harmful to the private investigation industry but more importantly the client. “Link to Articles Below”

If you contact a private investigator in reference to cohabitation or some other type of marital case, ask one simple question, “Are you going to be personally involved in working my case”?  If he or she says no I suggest you look elsewhere.

  1. Do not be afraid to talk costs with a private investigator you might hire. When I am speaking with a potential client the conversation understandably always goes to costs. I advise the client of the costs associated with the investigation and further prepare a written proposal so the client can see the costs him or herself and do their own math. Be very wary of the investigator who wants to get a credit card payment off of you before providing you with a written proposal.  Only after the client reviews and accepts my written proposal will I then prepare a retainer agreement.
  2. Before agreeing into entering into a retainer agreement with a private investigator it is important the two of you are on the same page on the approach to the initial investigation. When discussing an investigation with a potential client I always provide an outline an initial plan of action based on the details I am provided. However, I always add a cautionary note by advising more often than not some elements of the investigation might change or be altered in some fashion based on information uncovered in the initial investigation.

Watch out for the “Snake Oil Salesman”

Be extremely wary of any private investigator who guarantees a 99% success rate that is just a slick snake oil salesman lying to you. There is no way to guarantee such success, to do so ignores the fact that the subject matter of the investigation just might not be actually going on. For instance, I have had several cohabitation cases that upon intake, I had advised the client I believed they were going to be unsuccessful in securing a Prima Facie Case of Cohabitation and warned against the investigation while suggesting they wait to a little more time passes before electing to proceed, on these occasions I had been right.  One thing you need to remember when deciding whether or not to pull the trigger on a cohabitation case, and that is, most often you will only get one shot at it, so it is very important to aim well.  For your convenience, I have provided a legal definition of “Prima Facie Case”, I would anticipate this should be helpful to your understanding of what type of case is necessary to initially present to the New Jersey Family Court in order to be successful:

(“Prima facie” is a Latin term that literally means “on its face.” Prima facie is a fact presumed to be true unless it is disproved. Prima facie proof is based on first impression, and accepted as correct until proved otherwise. For the majority of civil actions, the person bringing forth the claim must present a prima facie case in order to avoid dismissal. This is because the burden of persuading judge or jury always rests with the plaintiff).

Lastly, I recently read an article from the owner of a West Coast Private Investigation Firm who advertised themselves as former “Federal Officers”. I had to laugh when I read some of the author’s tips on “how to hire” a private investigator.  One of the first tips was to call the “Duty Officer” at the local FBI office or the “Watch Commander” at the Local Police or Sheriff’s Office and ask those professionals for a recommendation on a “good” private investigator. Two problems with that course of action, 1.  It would be unethical, improper and probably illegal for the public employee to give such a recommendation for the simple reason of the potentiality for corruption in giving out such recommendations, and, 2. Go ahead and try calling the duty agent of your regional FBI office and request a recommendation to a good private investigator and see if he just hangs the phone on you or actually has a good belly laugh.

More advice from this West Coast Private Investigator was to not hire a private investigator who did not have an office, one of the reasons cited was that the investigator may abscond with your money and you will not be able to find him again. In my thirty-five-year career as a police officer and as the former chief of the Jersey City Police Department I had run into many elitists such as tis author, they measured their importance by the size of their office.  Prior to becoming the Chief of Patrol than the Chief of Department, I worked in patrol as a supervisor (Deputy Chief, Captain, Lieutenant, Sergeant) and before that as a uniformed cop. During this period of time my office was in my police car, that is where things happen and things get done and I am proud of the time I spent out in the street rather than in an “office” which that author relates as being so important.

Be careful of those slick investigators with their fancy office, because you will be the one paying the rent.


About the author:  Bob Cowan is the owner of Cowan Investigations a full-service New Jersey Private Investigations Firm, Bob is the former Chief of the Jersey City Police Department and has 35 years of experience as a police officer in New Jersey’s second-largest municipality. 

Read Bob Cowan’s Bio

If you wish to speak with me regarding this article, or if you need a consultation regarding it’s contents please do not hesitate to call me at 732-837-8444, seven days a week 8:00am to 8:00pm.  

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