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Perform your due diligence before hiring a New Jersey Private Investigator for your Alimony/Cohabitation Investigation

Bob Cowan - Owner of Cowan Investigations, a New Jersey Private Investigator

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In most instances people have no idea on what to expect when contacting a New Jersey Private Investigator in order to investigate a potential cohabitation situation that they believe to be occurring with respect to a former spouse they may be paying alimony to. Furthermore, most people have never dealt with a private investigator, or for that matter don’t even know of an investigator to contact nor have any acquaintances who have had the occasion to have retained a New Jersey Private Investigator for any purpose at all. The purpose of this article is to educate persons who might be considering retaining a private investigator on what to expect in terms of how a cohabitation investigation might be conducted into the living arrangements of their ex-spouse to whom they are paying alimony.

Prior to getting into the weeds on how a cohabitation investigation might begin and possibly proceed it is important to look at the elements that a private investigator will need to obtain evidence of in order to reach the threshold of achieving a **prima facie case of cohabitation; this is by far the most important goal, because without the showing of a prima facie case of cohabitation a payor of alimony will never get to the point of obtaining discovery from his/her former spouse.

**Prima Facie- Latin for “At First Look,” or “On It’s Face,” referring to a lawsuit or a criminal prosecution in which the evidence before trial is sufficient to prove the case unless there is substantial contradictory evidence presented at trial.

It is so very important that if you are short on one of the elements of presenting a prima facie cohabitation case you come in strong on others, in 2014, the New Jersey Legislature leveled the playing field making it easier for the payor of alimony to make a case for alimony reduction or elimination


Under the revised 2014 Alimony statute, A New Jersey Family Court may suspend or terminate alimony if the recipient of the alimony cohabits with another person. Pursuant to the revised Statute, 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.

(Updated 2021)

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.

During the initial intake interview, the private investigator should obtain general information about your case, such as the wording of your MSA regarding alimony. As a private investigator, it is at this time during the intake process I inquire of a potential client as to whether they have consulted with an attorney.

What questions should you expect from a New Jersey Private Investigator during intake? Unquestionably, the first question a private investigator should ask in a cohabitation or child custody case should be whether or not you’re represented by an attorney. On a personal level, I have encountered clients who had attorneys who told them to hire a New Jersey Private Investigator and bring back some evidence that the attorney can use before they would file a case. In other instances, I have had potential clients who wanted me to perform a preliminary investigation (which can be completed at significantly less cost) to assess whether or not there is an actual cohabitation going on. Either of the preceding is valid reasons for a client to want to initiate an investigation, however, you should be suspect of a private investigator who does not get to the attorney question in short order. In order to vet potential New Jersey Private Investigators to conduct your alimony/cohabitation investigation, your first stop should be the private investigator’s website (if a website even exists); when reviewing the website check for both the amount and quality of content as well as the professionalism of the construction of the private investigator’s website.

During an initial interview with a private investigator be very cautious if that investigator tries to insist on you providing identifying information; most but not every investigator is scrupulous, you should only provide identifying information at the point of your seriously considering the hiring of the New Jersey Private Investigator. You do not know who the investigator your talking knows, so it is extremely important to shield the specifics of your cohabitation until you gain a level of trust with him or her. When I assess a case for a potential client, I scrupulously avoid asking questions that would identify the specific subjects and specific location of the investigation. In the below link I explain how it is the client who conducts the initial interview of a New Jersey Private Investigator, not the other way around.

All I need in order to initially determine a “rough trajectory” for the Alimony/Cohabitation Investigation is to obtain from the potential client a general location and or locations, geographical and structural descriptions of the homes, properties and type of neighborhood the target locations are located in. This type of information is generally enough intel in order to formulate a potential plan and course of action. With this plan I can usually provide a rough estimate of costs, this is subsequently provided through a written proposal which will always precede a written retainer agreement; if references are required, I am always willing to provide contact information of past clients who were happy with my work and want to refer me as an honest, hardworking and quality investigator. I provide the written proposal for several reasons:

1. During my conversation with a potential client I will normally be asked for information about my hourly rate and other expenses which I supply to the client,

2. The written proposal which includes all foreseeable costs for services will enable the client who is price shopping to sit down and do his own math so there is no misunderstanding of the costs. Be careful if initial estimates seem too good to be true, because they probably are. I have heard of private investigators who like to get an initial couple of thousand dollars from a client as a way of “hooking the client into the investigation”, while withholding a “true estimate” of the cost; bait and switch pricing.

3. If after reviewing the written private investigator proposal the individual is interested in my services it is then that I will supply contact information on references of other individual I have done private investigation work for. I wait before providing these references because I really don’t want my past clients contacted unless I have a serious client.

4. I wait to after a written proposal is accepted because the retainer agreement is much more specific requiring much more information from the client as well as taking me a longer time to prepare.

5. Any New Jersey Private Investigator who will not provide a written proposal to you outlining the potential costs of your investigation should be avoided at all costs.

6. It is extremely important while conducting your due diligence research on New Jersey Private Investigators that you look for references from former clients of the private investigator; not just references on some page on his or her website which are easily falsified. It is important when looking for references you search for references posted on “Google”, “Yelp” and other resources. Case in point, on my website media page I have persons speaking to reporters regarding my work ethic, interviews conducted after my pending appointment as Jersey City Police Chief had been announced. In addition, ask the private investigator to provide references you can speak with; this could be a very expensive investigation make sure you do your due diligence. The below link directly below is to a YouTube video I created on the subject of reviews.

The link which follows is an example of the google reviews I reference, to the right you will see an area where Google places the reviews:….0…1.1.64.psy-ab..

Prior to moving ahead to a retainer agreement be careful of the sub-contract routine many New Jersey Private Investigators employ

Subcontracting- This is essentially the practice of a New Jersey Private Investigator or a National Firm in-taking large amounts of investigative work through the creation of a superior advertising platform. Often, these investigators will imply it is they who will handle your investigation, in addition, these private investigators often represent that they are within geographical proximity to your investigation when they could be a hundred miles away. The private investigator will not really handle your investigation but will often contract it out to a local investigator while paying that local investigator as low as forty percent of the hourly rate you are paying the firm that you think will be handling your investigation. I have attached a link to an informative article from “Pursuit Magazine” titled “Private Investigators, the dirty little secret of subcontracting.

In some corporate type investigations subcontracting may be okay because of the remoteness of the company (often insurance Firms/Outside Law Firms) from the location of the investigation. Also, subcontracting can be properly used when the firm handling a personal case such as a matrimonial may need to deploy the services of a specialist such as asset investigation, remote camera deployment and such.

Multiple times in the past I have been interviewed by potential clients who ultimately circled back to me entering into a retainer agreement which locked me in as the private investigator for their matter. On many occasions I found out the reason I was subsequently picked to conduct a client’s investigation was two-fold: 1. My extensive background in law enforcement and the professionalism of my website and the extensive content within, and 2. While clients were interviewing other New Jersey Private Investigators they were unable to pin down who was going to actually going to handle the investigation; the astute client recognized the New Jersey Private Investigator had intent to subcontract their investigation out under the guise of “managing it”.

I feel so strongly about and against the concept of New Jersey Private Investigators subcontracting out their divorce related investigations I have one last issue to add. In most instances when a New Jersey Private Investigator accepts a subcontracted Cohabitation, Child Custody or other divorce related investigation that investigator is not going to give a “rats- behind” about messing the case up by not being concerned with being detected and such by the target or targets of the investigation. The investigator who accepted the subcontracted divorce related investigation in most instances will just be concerned with getting paid by the private investigator who subcontracted the investigation; after all, the private investigator will never have to explain to the client how he messed up he will just cash the check not caring about the integrity of the investigation. One of the most important factors to keep in mind when retaining a New Jersey Private Investigator for a divorce related investigation such as Cohabitation/Alimony Elimination, Child Custody and/or Infidelity Investigations is the fact that very often you will only get one shot at it; if the investigation is discovered prematurely the targets will be much more careful, this will make it much more difficult for a private investigator to gather additional evidence.

Do yourself a favor, do not permit a New Jersey Private Investigator who is remote from your location to “manage” your investigation, it is imperative for the success of investigations, in particular divorce and marital related investigations conducted in New Jersey that you have a direct communication with the private investigator actually conducting your divorce related investigation.

Several more thing you should look for before deciding on what New Jersey Private Investigator you should retain before you make your decision.

Determine what type of vehicles the New Jersey Private Investigator is able to deploy into the field
Many Private investigators do not have dedicated surveillance vehicles to deploy in order to gather information during investigation. A surveillance vehicle IS NOT a sedan or an SUV in which the investigator sits in the front seat for hours on end waiting for someone to come out of a home, business, hotel etc. Do you know how suspicious that looks to people seeing a person sitting in the same spot a vehicle for hours on end? Residents in the area are going to think either one of three things: 1. The person in the car is a cop, or, 2. The person in the car is a private investigator, or 3. The person in the car is a criminal of some sort, none of which is a good thing

I cannot stress to you enough on how important it is to your Alimony/Cohabitation Investigation to determine what type of surveillance vehicles the private investigator is able to deploy into the field and more importantly, does the private investigator have a dedicated surveillance vehicle? At my private investigation firm the flagship vehicle in our fleet is a non-descript mini-van that can be parked anywhere with the private investigator secreted in the rear of the van gathering video evidence; to anyone noticing the van it would look like a parked and unoccupied mini-van. The below image is the interior of the van.

Subpoena Service Wrangell Brook Park

Below I have included a link to a YouTube video where I speak to the importance of a New Jersey Private Investigator having the proper vehicles to conduct your Alimony/Cohabitation Investigation.

You may have read some of this information on previous blogs but certainly not all of it, do yourself a favor before spending a lot of money for a failed investigation, perform your due diligence before you retain a New Jersey Private Investigator for your Alimony/Cohabitation Private Investigation.


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-experience as a police officer in New Jersey’s second largest municipality.

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 8:00p

If You Believe There Is Infidelity In Your Relationship, Consult A New Jersey Private Investigator

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