New Jersey Cohabitation Investigations conducted by a New Jersey Private Investigator; how should the Cohabitation Investigation “generally proceed”? PART 1
** The author Bob Cowan specializes in New Jersey Cohabitation Investigations and is a licensed New Jersey Private Investigator. Bob is the former Chief of the 800 Officer Jersey City Police Department; Jersey City is the second largest municipality in New Jersey and is separated from New York City by the Hudson River. Bob is a thirty-five-year veteran of the Jersey City Police Department and has been involved in a voluminous amount of investigations. In his time as the Chief of Police Bob Coordinated and assisted in numerous investigations with agencies such as; FBI, USAG Office, DEA, US Marshalls Service, New Jersey State Attorney Generals Office, Hudson County Prosecutors Office as well many contiguous police agencies.
In several previous articles I have written regarding New Jersey Cohabitation Investigations my objective was to actually breakdown in a” general sense” of how a client should expect New Jersey Cohabitation investigations conducted by a New Jersey Private Investigator to proceed. However, I must have started at least three articles with this objective in mind, but in each article, I became bogged down in what I would recommend to a potential client in need of New Jersey Private Investigator in terms of hiring the most competent, honest New Jersey Private Investigator in order to handle the multiple aspects included in most New Jersey Cohabitation Investigations. I promise I am not going to drift off again except to say that before you hire a New Jersey Private Investigator for ANY ISSUE particularly for New Jersey Cohabitation Investigations or a Child Custody Investigations it is essential you conduct due diligence research on the private investigator before you hire him or her; this means you must also check for testimonials using a healthy amount of skepticism (remember they can be falsified), references that the New Jersey Private Investigator can put you in touch with that will be willing to speak with you as well as a complete review of his or her business website. (How to Select References Part 1/Website Part 2)
Okay, this opening paragraph is all I will say about the extreme importance of hiring the right New Jersey Private Investigator to conduct your New Jersey Cohabitation Investigation and/or your Child Custody Investigation.
First Steps a private investigator frequently takes in New Jersey Cohabitation investigations and/or Alimony Investigations
Upon a New Jersey Private Investigator receiving your initial telephone call regarding the potential of performing New Jersey Cohabitation Investigations it is important the private investigator have a handle on the New Jersey alimony laws, in particular the September 2014 revisions signed into law; it is also important the client has a layman’s understanding of the changes the New Jersey Laws; re below:
Under the 2014 statute, the court may suspend or terminate alimony if a payee cohabitates with another person. Pursuant to the 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.
Once Your Comfortable that Your New Jersey Private Investigator has an understanding of the New Jersey Alimony Law and the provisions of Cohabitation, during this all important initial interview with the New Jersey Private investigator it is important he makes clear that his (that being the private investigator) primary objective is two-fold:
- To gather enough evidence during the multi-stages most New Jersey Cohabitation Investigations follow in order to provide for a prima facie case of cohabitation in order that the evidence may be provided to your attorney so that the litigation can proceed to the next step; the opening up of discovery of records and documents so your case can proceed to the all-important plenary hearing before the New Jersey Family Court Judge. If evidence of a prima facie case** is not presented to the court the litigation is essentially over unless overturned on appeal or additional evidence is produced.
** A prima facie case is the establishment of a legally required rebuttable presumption. A prima facie case is a cause of action or defense that is sufficiently established by a party’s evidence to justify a verdict in his or her favor, provided such evidence is not rebutted by the other party.
- It is quite possible that there may not actually be the case of cohabitation to present to the court; often a preliminary investigation by a qualified and scrupulousNew Jersey Private Investigator can determine if this in fact is the case. I have personally had clients where I initially suspected (and had been right) they did not have an actionable case of cohabitation but the client was being urged on by an attorney. If a client still wants me to proceed despite my view that there might not be an actionable case I will always proceed to continue the investigation while at the same time knowing I had been completely honest with the client.
The New Jersey Private Investigator involved in New Jersey Cohabitation Investigations should use the elements listed in the above noted 2014 revision to the New Jersey Alimony law as a guide for setting the parameters of the New Jersey Cohabitation Investigations path in order to obtain the evidence which will fit into the cubby hole of as many elements as possible; it will be important to obtain evidence on as many elements as possible, if you are weak on one or more of the elements it will be important to come in strong on the other elements.
One of the key changes in the September New Jersey 2014, New Jersey Alimony reform was the provision in the law providing: A court may not find an absence of cohabitation solely on grounds that the couple does not live together on a full-time basis.
Planning the Investigation
In most instances when the client calls a New Jersey Private Investigator to conduct New Jersey Cohabitation Investigations to eliminate alimony, the client has limited information on the current life of his ex-spouse because of many factors among them might be their time apart as well as geographical remoteness. Often, the sources of information that cause the client to suspect that the ex-spouse is cohabiting with another might be because of information that may have been related to them by their children, family, mutual friends or others having knowledge of the living arrangement of the ex-spouse; this information is sometimes unknowingly disclosed (as most often the case with children) or purposely provided by others. Very often the payee of alimony discloses the information themselves through their reckless use of social media.
At this initial stage of planning for New Jersey Cohabitation Investigations it is important to outline a way in order to find out who all the players are, i.e. the ex-spouse, the suspected cohabiter and any children involved be it the ex-spouses or the cohabiters’, if any. It will be important to obtain any and all photographs of the people involved including the previously mentioned. Some of these photographs may be in the possession of the client and many may not be; regarding photographs that cannot be provided by the client the New Jersey Private Investigator will often be successful in obtaining photographs and other important information from social media searches.
At this beginning stage of New Jersey Cohabitation Investigations it is important to obtain the information on vehicles that are involved in the investigation, if any. Fortunately for New Jersey Cohabitation Investigations (like it or not) the lifestyle most people lead in New Jersey involve the ownership of a car. The reason that vehicle ownership is so important in New Jersey Cohabitation investigations is because the ownership of a vehicle and its presence outside a particular home along with other evidence is considered an indication that the owner or operator of the vehicle is within the home. Even if the car is parked around the corner from the target home it would be evidential that the owner/operator of the automobile is in the target home; again, this presumption would be made with other evidence that is properly articulated by the New Jersey Private Investigator in his or her activity report. The absence of vehicles tied to either one of the targets of the investigation will complicate the investigation and at the very minimum increase the surveillance costs associated with most New Jersey Cohabitation Investigations**.
In New Jersey Cohabitation Investigations in which the payee of alimony had a vehicle and the cohabiter had either no vehicle or a “separate dwelling” which was either in walking distance or in an area that has reliable public transportation I found that the investigation can be quite complicated. It will either require the deployment of covert cameras which of course run the risk of being found despite how “covert” the cameras may be, or, surveillance will need to be deployed in order to document the activities of the cohabiter and the target of the investigation. Both of the preceding options although often successful, can also be costlier while these conditions often place New Jersey Cohabitation Investigations more at risk of being uncovered.
The absolute optimum conditions that will exist for the conducting of New Jersey cohabitation Investigations will be when the ex-spouse has a car and the cohabiter has a car. In this way your New Jersey Private Investigator will propose a course of investigation as follows which New Jersey Private Investigators refer to as “home checks”:
- A late-night investigation that will document the presence of the targets vehicle (alimony payee) along with the cohabiter’s vehicle parked at the same home and/or location such as either the targets home or the cohabiter’s home. Documentation will include the obtaining of video and photographic evidence which will be included in a written report**(see sample report)
- An early morning investigation that will document the presence of the targets vehicle (alimony payee) along with the cohabiter’s vehicle parked at the same home and/or location such as either the targets home or the cohabiter’s home. Documentation will include the obtaining of video and photographic evidence which will be included in a written report**(see sample report). During the conducting of stationary surveillance during investigations I cannot stress enough the importance of retaining a private investigator who is able to deploy a covert surveillance vehicle into the field, re; below video
- During the early morning, cohabitation investigation surveillance will be conducted in order that habits, routines or other important patterns may be established included but not limited to; the time of day the parties leave for work, gym or other destination, whether the target and cohabiter are conducting household chores either alone or together and other behaviors that might be observed photographed and video documented while being included in reports as evidence for the litigation**(See sample report).
** (Link below is to my New Jersey Private Investigator Sample Report. It is essentially a prototype of the reports a client in New Jersey Cohabitation Investigations can expect to receive from Cowan Investigations. Reports prepared like my sample report are preferred by New Jersey Family Courts because the evidential photographs which are all time and date stamped are integrated into the written reports. When a New Jersey Family Court Judge is presented with an investigation report like the reports produced by Cowan investigations it is much easier for the Court to understand what is being presented rather than having to scramble and match photographs to passages in the report. This type of report writing is essential, I cannot stress enough the importance of the New Jersey Cohabitation Investigations Report presentation. Most New Jersey Private Investigators do not prepare their reports in this manner because it is much more time consuming to prepare and requires a higher level of computer skills. Do yourself a favor, if the private investigator does not prepare his or her cohabitation reports in this manner, hire one who does).
With respect to the vehicle documentation phase of New Jersey Cohabitation Investigations. a length of time must be decided upon and this decision will normally be made with several factors in mind. As a New Jersey Private Investigator my first inclination is to ask the client what schedule it is that the family-law attorney is prefers as it is he or she that will be presenting the litigation to the New Jersey Family Court and it would be improper as well as unprofessional to ignore their direction. In most instances the client has told me that the attorney they had consulted had only advised them that they should consult and retain a New Jersey Private Investigator and to return to the lawyer at the time the evidence is secured; this is not to say that the lawyer does not tell the client what evidence to gather but instead they seem to avoid being connected on working too closely with the private investigator. Stated another way, it has been often up to me to advise the client on how I recommend proceeding in order to gather enough evidence in order to support a prima facie case of cohabitation before the New Jersey Family-Court.
When a budget and investigation length is determined it is important to then take the randomness out of the home checks and surveillances. For purposes of this segment of the discussion it is important to keep in mind that one home-check equals “a late-night check for and documentation the subjects vehicles” and an “early morning check for and documentation of the subject vehicles; each successful home check where the Subject’s vehicles are documented at the same location should meet the preponderance of evidence standard which is the threshold needed for the New Jersey Family Court to conclude that the two Subjects had spent the overnight together.
With respect to taking the randomness out of the home checks what follows is what I, as a New Jersey Private Investigator would minimally recommend to a client in terms of the securing of home checks and documenting the vehicles present which could be strongly indicative of Cohabitation under the New Jersey Alimony Statute. As a private investigator the minimum baseline plan I would recommend for the “home checks would be comprised of sixteen home checks over a two-month period. I would begin the checks as follows, the below would be indicative of the first month of the home check investigation, the routine would then repeat itself.
- Sunday Night/Monday Morning
- Monday Night/Tuesday Morning
- Tuesday Night/Wednesday Morning
- Wednesday Night/Thursday Morning
- Thursday Night/Friday Morning
- Friday Night/Saturday Morning
- Saturday Night/Sunday Morning
- Sunday Night/Monday Morning
As Stated above, most New Jersey Cohabitation investigations should continue following the same pattern above or some type of similar pattern. The reason it is important to establish a pattern is it will provide the investigation which much more credibility because there is no randomness. Imagine going to a deposition and the private investigator testifying that one week he or she conducted the home check on Monday and Thursday, the following week the Private investigator conducted the home checks on Tuesday and Saturday. Any good attorney will challenge that testimony by asking the private investigator why he or she establish a pattern similar to what I have previously described. You can bet the attorney will insinuate that the credibility of the investigation is compromised because the private investigator had no pattern and could be testifying untruthfully; to my point, there is room for the attorney to make the “unsupported allegation” that you must be lying and that how “do we know” you did not also go on another day and found no evidence and you are now withholding this damaging information? Okay, maybe the allegation is unsupported by any credible evidence, however, the attorney has just thrown out a cloud of suspicion over the honesty of your cohabitation investigation.
As you can see, the establishment of a pattern while conducting New Jersey Cohabitation Investigations with respect to home checks is essential for the integrity and credibility of New Jersey Cohabitation Investigations. However, certain circumstances may cause an alteration of the “pattern investigation”, if this happens it will be important that the reasons for the variations in the pattern be well documented.
In part 2 of this article I will discuss a little more regarding the home check portion of New Jersey Cohabitation Investigations and then move on to other necessary elements of a successful New Jersey Cohabitation Investigations.
About the author: Bob Cowan is the owner of Cowan Investigations a full service New Jersey Private Investigations firm specializing in New Jersey Cohabitation Investigations. Bob is the former Chief of the Jersey City Police Department and has 35 years experience as a police officer in New Jersey’s second largest municipality.
f 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.