You Are Your Best Private Investigator

In the wake of the Ashley Madison scandal, one of the most common questions a divorce attorney gets asked during consultations is whether or not my client should hire a private investigator. At the risk of injuring the business of the private investigators I use for process serving, the resounding answer I give is “no.” The reason? You are your best private investigator. You have the most access to your spouse, his/her records, and electronic devices. You are also the person most familiar with your spouse’s behavior, and know when he/she is behaving strangely. Also, cheaters (much like criminals) all make mistakes. Whether or not they want to get caught, cheating spouses always forget to cover all their tracks and will leave a trail for your to find.

If you suspect your spouse is having an affair, start looking for his/her trail. If your spouse is suddenly on his/her cell phone more than before, has placed a passcode on the phone without your knowledge, or takes the phone wherever he/she goes in the house, then a good place to start looking is at cell phone records. If there are numerous calls and/or texts coming from and going to a particular number that you don’t recognize, then it’s time to start Googling that number! If you find a second phone, or a “go phone,” then I would forward yourself all the texts, photos and call logs you can find on it. Taking photos of the phone and the photos and call logs is a good idea too.

Another place to look is at credit card statements. Are there charges you don’t recognize at bars, restaurants, hotels, or for gift items such as jewelry, flowers, or clothes. Make sure you make a copy of those statements for your attorney, or at the very least take a photograph. Even if your spouse destroys those records, if you have a photograph of the statement, your divorce attorney will have the information he/she needs to subpoena records for the account!

If you can’t find a second phone, or you don’t have access to the phone records or credit card statements, then start checking pockets and vehicles. Shredding receipts is usually not a priority for a cheater when he/she is in the midst of an affair. Often those receipts get left in a coat or pant pocket, or wadded up and left in cup holders or glove compartments in a car. Make sure you keep those receipts for your lawyer. I would also recommend taking a photograph of the receipt and the location where it was found, just in case it turns up missing . . .

Lastly, always check the internet history on computers, laptops and phones. While your spouse may be wise enough to delete emails or chats with his/her paramour, the internet history will have a record of any websites visited or e-mail accounts used. This information will assist your divorce attorney in issuing the subpoenas to retrieve more exact information.

Remember, you are your best private investigator. If your gut is telling you that something is not right, start looking, and start gathering.

Services at Vella & King

Vella & King Provides Boutique Law Firm Services

At Vella & King our focus is making you feel at home when your home may be breaking up.  We are a boutique law firm that specializes in all of your family law and domestic relations needs.

Most often the calls we receive are with regards to divorce and adoption, but there are a number of services that we provide outside of that realm.

We also assist clients with modifications of their final decrees of divorce, modifications of custody, visitation, child support, and alimony.  Keep in mind; property settlements are not something that we can modify.

We also assist clients with what we refer to as petitions for contempt.  In other words, if your ex-spouse is not doing what he or she is supposed to be doing, according to the decree of divorce.  We can assist you in navigating the courts and making sure that you get the relief you need, as well as, compensation of attorney’s fees for your efforts to do so.

We do offer a number of services beyond the simple categories mentioned above.  We offer services in the family court of the juvenile court here in Birmingham, AL including paternity, basic visitation and child support.  It can also include dependency actions.

It’s not uncommon for you or someone you know to have custody of a child that may not even be related to you. You may also know a child that needs a change in custody or supervision.  We call those dependency actions because we can assist you in going to the juvenile court in order to get an order of custody for that child.

No matter what family law and domestic relations need arises, you can rest assure that we can help you with a favorable outcome.   If it involves family, we make your family our business. Please reach out to Vella & King anytime you or someone you know needs help.

Even More Cleanup After The Divorce

Detail shot of a woman using laptop at the lawn

Your divorce is final, you have updated your will, power of attorney and advanced healthcare directive, and you have removed your ex-spouse as beneficiary on all your accounts. What else could you possibly do to clean up after the divorce?

Your security of course!

When starting over as a singleton, it is important to do so with fresh new equipment. Specifically, a new computer (or equivalent) and cell phone that are held solely in your name. You should also change all your e-mail passwords to ones your ex-spouse does not know and has no way of guessing.

Even if you believe your ex-spouse has never known your passwords, it is an important security step. You may even consider changing your e-mail address entirely, if you believe your e-mail account was compromised in any way during the pendency of the divorce.

Lastly, clean up your social media accounts. Obviously if you have children, you may want to keep some family pictures available for them to view, but there is no need to have a public photo album entitled “romantic vacations” featuring pictures of you and your ex-spouse kissing on the beach in Mexico.

Once you have taken these few steps, you can truly and safely begin discovering the new single you.

Cleaning Up After the Divorce

Divorce is Done, But Clean Up is Just Starting

torn divorce decree and cash, with broken wedding ring

Once a Final Decree of Divorce is entered, most clients let out a huge sigh of relief.  However, your work is not done.

Your next step is to clean up the rest of your legal documents to reflect your new marital status.  Specifically, now is the time to rewrite your Last Will and Testament, your Power of Attorney, and your Advanced Healthcare Directive (i.e., your living will).  Often times your divorce attorney can assist you with this, and she may even reduce your out-of-pocket cost if she is still on retainer.

You also need to take time to ensure that you no longer have your former spouse designated (unless otherwise Ordered by the Court to do so) as the beneficiary on your life insurance policies, retirement accounts and/or investment accounts.

Lastly, double check that any and all deeds and titles are properly executed and filed listing your new marital status.  Doing a final clean up after the divorce does create some additional work and headache, but I assure you that you will double your pain and suffering if you sweep this under the rug!

Grounds For Divorce

Divorce in dictionary

In Alabama, there must be grounds (or causes) for divorce for the circuit court to have the power to enter the divorce. These grounds, found at Code of Alabama 1975 § 30-2-1, are either fault-based or no-fault based. No-fault grounds are the most common grounds for divorce, and are as follows:

Irretrievable breakdown of the marriage or Incompatibility.

Fault-based grounds, even if they occur during the marriage, are used as grounds for divorce less frequently than no-fault grounds, due in part to the fact that these grounds must be proven at trial. These fault-based grounds are:

  • Incapacity or Impotency;
  • Adultery;
  • Voluntary abandonment;
  • Imprisonment in penitentiary;
  • Commission of crimes against nature;
  • Habitual drunkenness or drug addiction;
  • Insanity;
  • Pregnancy at time of marriage;
  • Violence and reasonable apprehension thereof;
  • Separation without support.

If you are contemplating divorce, and you believe that any of the fault-based grounds above are present in your marriage, discuss them with your attorney at your initial consultation. Your attorney will be able to give you advice and counsel on what grounds your divorce should be filed.

Top 10 Documents You Should Bring to Your Initial Divorce Consultation

Initial Divorce Consultation

This is a list of the top ten documents every client should bring to his/her initial divorce consultation.

Of course, the more you bring, the better informed your attorney is and the better advice she can provide.

However, this is a good place to start:

  • Most recent tax returns, including W-2s, 1099s, K-1s, etc.
  • Most recent pay stubs, showing any amount withheld for the cost of the family’s health insurance.
  • Most recent appraisal on the marital home, or the Tax Assessor’s valuation notice.
  • Most recent mortgage statement for any existing mortgage, showing payoff amount and monthly payment owed.
  • Copy of existing life insurance policies, whether term or whole life, and the beneficiary designation.
  • Most recent statements for all known bank accounts, whether savings or checking.
  • Most recent statements for all known investment and retirement accounts.
  • Most recent loan and/or credit card statements, showing principle balance owed, required minimum payments, and to whom said debt is registered.
  • Title to any and all vehicles owned, including boats.
  • A list of any family heirlooms and/or any personal property worth an excess of $500.

Remember, when scheduling a divorce consult, it is always best to ask if you should bring any documents specific to your situation.  However, if you have these ten items, you can rest assured that your consultation fee will be well spent, and that you will leave your consult armed with the information and advice to make the right decisions.