Inspired by remake of ‘80s show: Tips for hiring your own `Magnum, P.I.’

By Tonya Graser Smith

My husband and I have been watching the reboot of the ‘80s TV classic, “Magnum, P.I.” It’s brought back the excitement, humor and Ferraris – oh the Ferraris! – of the original. It also has reminded me of how as a kid I knew Tom Selleck was Magnum, P.I., but I didn’t know what P.I. stood for. I just knew Magnum solved crimes that the police couldn’t or didn’t and helped people find out the truth.

Why this trip down memory lane?

Well, I never imagined I’d be in a position to offer advice on how to hire a P.I. Yet, as a family law attorney, I sometimes work with clients who find themselves needing their own “Magnum, P.I.,” not to solve crimes, but to instead shed light on marital disputes and issues.

Most commonly in family law, private investigators are used to gather information about a cheating spouse or about a spouse who is lying about his or her schedule or his or her work to score a better deal when it comes to alimony – paying it or receiving it. A P.I. sometimes can be helpful in a custody case when a parent is hiding alcohol or drug use problems.

So what should you look for in hiring a P.I.? Here are four things to keep your eye on.

  1. Look for a firm or group of investigators. You might need something quick or at odd hours, which means you need a group, not one person who might be busy for your case.
  2. You want someone up to date on the law and which laws apply. Of course, they’re not a lawyer, and you should always first check tactics with your attorney. But a good P.I. can help direct what you need to ask your attorney to approve.
  3. Make sure you hire someone who is willing to testify – whether in a deposition or in court. You want a P.I. who has experience testifying and is good at it. You want someone who has a track record of how to be professional and present their observations in a neutral, but influential manner to benefit your case.
  4. Finally, make sure to get a written report. This means all notes, photos and videos that are part of the surveillance effort. A judge could refuse to read or accept a report if not complete, and that would be a huge waste of money and time.

What should you expect to pay?

Private investors usually charge by the hour. Talk to your attorney and determine a budget range. Make sure your budget doesn’t exceed the possible financial benefit.

When should you hire a P.I.? 

Best answer: First, before you spend the time, energy and the money, talk with your attorney to determine IF you should hire a P.I. Then, together come up with a strategy based on your specific case.