The use of surveillance in high-asset divorces

It can be the case that one or both spouses in a high asset divorce are professionally employed and enjoy a comfortable income. When divorce threatens the marriage, successful and motivated people may go all lengths to get what they want.

The two most hotly contested topics in an adversarial divorce are usually child custody and asset division.

Pennsylvania and child custody

In the state of Pennsylvania, child custody law mirrors the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act in many respects. The court is interested in awarding custody in light of what is best for the children, not to satisfy parental demands for a larger portion of care or full custody.

The court would prefer an ideal arrangement where parents are cooperative and wish to split their care of the children equitably; however, the court looks at several issues to determine the best custody for children. Pennsylvania Statutes Title 23 Pa.C.S.A Section 5328(a) lists many of these factors. Some of them include whether one parent has a closer relationship with the child, if a parent has a drug or alcohol use record, if a spouse has an emotional disturbance that would render him or her incompetent for child care, or any parental criminal record of verbal or physical abuse in the home. The judge always considers the child’s wishes along with the parents’ wishes. The court will try to ensure that the child’s safety and well-being come first over any other factor. 

Surveillance is sometimes used to prove one parent is unfit

Although the practice of surveillance is illegal in these matters, the more aggressive parent will sometimes follow the other spouse and keep film and written records of the parent’s activities. The aggressive spouse will stalk the other on social media and at his or her place of work. These tactics are used both for intimidation and information that the surveillance provider uses to prove the other spouse is unfit. Some acrimonious spouses have bugged their spouse’s residence and car with undetectable film and sound cameras.

A spouse who stalks his partner for evidence may lose custody

The practice of surveillance could backfire. First, stalking is illegal. Second, the stalking parent is not aware of what type of surveillance evidence could turn against him and cause the court to award custody to his spouse

If either spouse suspects the other is engaging in harmful behaviors that may provide risk to the children and is therefore unfit to be the primary parent, the correct approach is to ask their respective attorneys about whether surveillance could prove beneficial. If the answer is yes, both attorneys can request a court-ordered and appointed period of surveillance governed by the court. While testimony obtained from surveillance does not guarantee sole custody, it can provide information that the judge may find useful in determining which of the two parents should have majority custody.