How Much Does a Private Investigator Cost?

How Much Does a Private Investigator Cost?

Nov 23, 2023
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Sometimes, spouses may consider hiring a private investigator if they are thinking about divorce. Like other professionals, investigators can charge steep fees, so it might be wise to begin by consulting a Fort Worth divorce attorney to learn about their resources and whether an investigator is necessary. 

Like so many things, the cost for a private investigator varies depending on the skill and experience of the one you hire and what work the investigator will be doing. A low estimate would be $50/hour, but a high-end P.I. doing more complex work could be $200/hour. 

Some reports show that the typical investigator-for-hire on their site charges $100-$150/hour, and the overall nationwide average is $105/hour. On the flipside, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average P.I. pay is $25/hour. So the real question is what kind of P.I. do you need, if any, and how complex is the investigation you need?

What Can a Private Investigator Do?

Different P.I.s have different areas of expertise, so not every investigator will offer all of these services. Most P.I.s have law enforcement and/or military backgrounds, in which they will rely on any special skills they may have acquired in their previous jobs.

  • Surveillance: A P.I. can be hired to watch an individual or a location to collect evidence and information. The P.I. will capture anything important they observe on video, with photographs, or with audio. P.I.s can look for unsafe driving, drug or alcohol abuse, infidelity, criminal activity, neglectful or abusive parenting, among other things. If you believe your ex has kidnapped your child, a P.I. can often get information that can help police and/or assist in locating your child more quickly.
  • Gathering Evidence: Investigators can also talk to neighbors, co-workers, and others to get information that is hard to obtain via surveillance or to corroborate evidence obtained via surveillance. Forensic private investigators can also help trace financial abuse, asset tracking, white-collar crimes, and things of that nature.
  • Criminal Investigations: Just like active duty police officers, private investigators can investigate who might have committed a crime, the full nature of the crime, motives, and so on. If you believe, for example, that your ex burned your business down, stole your car, or robbed your house, a P.I. can assist.
  • Background Checks: P.I.s also often conduct background checks. If, for instance, your ex’s new boyfriend or girlfriend is a cause for concern, a P.I. can help and see if this person has a criminal record, any potential history with addiction, children of their own that they are not allowed to visit, etc.

Paying for a Private Investigator

Expect to pay a retainer fee upfront when you hire a P.I. The retainer is like a prepayment or deposit, and your investigator will use that money towards your first payment(s). Forensic investigators are typically more expensive than regular investigators and have higher retainer fees. Just like you might do with an attorney, it’s wise to set a budget in advance. You can ask the P.I. to notify you once the retainer has been used up or your budget is almost reached. 

Also, be clear with the P.I. upfront about anything specifically that you may want him or her to avoid (such as an expensive overnight stake-out). Some P.I.s will also have minimum requirements. For example, for a surveillance project, a P.I. may have a 4-hour minimum. This means even if they get a video of your spouse kissing someone else in the first 15 minutes, you’ll still pay for four hours. Finally, remember you’ll also be responsible for the P.I.’s mileage, hotel stays, parking expenses, document copying/filing/retrieval expenses, applicable postage, etc.

Something else important to consider is that your divorce lawyer has the resources necessary to investigate your case. Most divorce lawyers already have investigators they know and trust, which can yield a more “wholesale” price. Bigger family law firms may even have in-house investigators, which usually makes the entire process more streamlined. 

Something else to consider if you hire a P.I. on your own is that it may impact the way your financial statements look to the court. Payments to your lawyer are unlikely to draw a second look. Furthermore, reports written by private investigators are admissible in court. You can rest easy knowing a P.I. who your lawyer already trusts no doubt creates reports that are properly formatted and meet necessary requirements.

Sample Private Investigation Fees in Texas

We’ve compiled a list of “standard” P.I. fees in Texas based on research and experience. If the work can only be done in the middle of the night or the weekend, you can expect to pay a little more than work done during regular business hours.

  • Asset Tracking/Discovery: $1,000-$1,500 flat rate per jurisdiction searched
  • Background Check: $250-$750 flat rate flat rate per jurisdiction searched
  • Criminal Background Search: $250 flat rate per jurisdiction searched
  • Finding Someone (Witness, Spouse’s Former Mistress): $800-$1,000 flat fee
  • Investment Account Search: $1,500 flat rate per jurisdiction searched
  • Interviewing Witnesses/Key Parties: $100-$150 hourly rate
  • Non-Monetary Asset Search: $500 flat rate per jurisdiction searched
  • Research (Databases, Social Media Posts, Field Research) – $100-$150 hourly rate
  • Surveillance: $100-$150 hourly rate
  • Undercover Investigation: $100-$150 hourly rate

How to Reduce Your Private Investigator Expenses

In our experience, a lot of money is wasted on P.I. services because the person hiring them didn’t fully prepare. We often find that the answer a client is looking for is readily available for free online or by making a few phone calls. 

Of course, for some people, it’s worth their money not to have to make an hour of phone calls or scroll through old Facebook posts endlessly. But if you are on a tight budget with the private investigator, ensure that you have researched everything possible on your own first. For example, if you believe your spouse meets a lover during lunch break, figure out exactly when his or her lunch break is, how long it lasts, the name and description of the suspected lover, and so on.

Another issue that arises when a well-intentioned P.I. doesn’t have all of the information is, for example, hours and hours of surveillance video is captured that, first of all, has to be painstakingly reviewed and, second of all, was a waste. If you don’t really have anything more to go off of but a gut feeling about asset hiding or driving the kids around drunk, investigate as much as you can before going to the P.I. The less the P.I. has to start with, the more of his or her time you’ll be paying for.

Do You Need a Private Investigator for Your Divorce?

This question might be more important to ask than “how much.” One thing to consider before hiring a P.I. on your own is that whatever it is you’re looking for may naturally turn up for free in the divorce “discovery” process. This involves both your divorce lawyer and your spouse’s divorce lawyer exchanging financial statements, work contracts, deeds, and other relevant documents in order to work out the settlement. 

You’d be surprised what can turn up when everyone has to, by law, lay their cards on the table, so to speak. Credit card statements and phone records alone are often quite revealing and are commonly exchanged in the divorce discovery process. Additionally, your legal team can investigate some of the same things a P.I. would (background searches, public records research, follow-up phone calls, etc).

Another reason to ask if hiring a P.I. is really necessary is that if your spouse has no assets, there isn’t much point in proving adultery in court. Texas does not require couples to give a reason as to why they are filing for divorce; however, if you choose to prove fault (abandonment, abuse/violence, adultery), it is possible a judge could award you more than half of the marital assets. For a couple with a sizable amount of marital property, this makes sense. Where there is no equity in property, nothing owned outright, etc, the expense of a P.I. is hardly justified.

Although infidelity is a popular reason to seek out P.I. services, there doesn’t always need to be financial motivation. If your kids have indicated that some suspicious activity is happening at the other parent’s house or you notice some suspicious things, you can hire a P.I. to ensure your kids are well taken care of by their other parent.

Talk to a Southlake Divorce Lawyer Today!   

Don’t be intimidated by the Texas divorce process. The skilled, knowledgeable Southlake, TX, divorce lawyers at Mims Ballew Hollingsworth can help you determine whether a private investigator is necessary in your case and help you hire a trustworthy, skilled P.I. 

Our Southlake office is conveniently located at 700 North Carroll Avenue #170, Southlake, Texas, 76092. To explore your divorce case and include a P.I. on your legal team, please contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

 

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