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Divorce Tips: Vehicle Tracking

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Tagged As: Divorce, How To, Legal, and Tips

What Is This

I am tired of the preponderance of divorce cases favoring mothers over fathers for no real reason other than social norm and outdated stereotypes. I would like to empower good fathers that face an uphill battle against deadbeat-dad stereotypes to have more information at their disposal prior meeting lawyers, mediating with spouses, walking into court, etc. This "Divorce Tips" series is simply written to raise awareness of issues you may face and potential options at your fingertips. Although written from a father's point of view and bias, there is no reason this article cannot aid a mother.


I am NOT a lawyer. All of the information in this article is from personal experience and/or anecdotal experience from others. I am not responsible for any of the decisions you choose to make nor am I responsible for the effects of those decisions. I strongly encourage you to consult with an attorney for advice about your local laws, local judicial precedent, and for their professional opinion.

Laws vary by state and municipality so before doing anything, always make sure your choice to pursue vehicle tracking fits into your state/city/town's legal framework. Nothing makes a divorce worse for you than breaking the law yourself and further enabling the other party. That said, for Maryland in 2014, a quick inquiry to the Maryland State Police about the legality of vehicle tracking revealed that so long as a given party is on a vehicle's title, they are legally considered an owner and allowed to track its location.

There's an important caveat to that "ownership" bit and its related to the current state of the divorce proceedings. If there is no current separation agreement or divorce court order that dictates a change in ownership, the matter of being on the title is probably enforceable. Bear in mind that sometimes one of those aforementioned legally binding documents dictates a change in ownership as of a particular date which may then supercede whether or not your name is still on the title. For instance, a separation agreement could be signed on one date stating ownership of a vehicle is transferred but it may take an ex-spouse an additional n months to finally complete the paperwork to remove your name from the vehicle's title. You must consult with an attorney for your local interpretation of these nuances.

Why Track

Having "proof" of another party's activities will not necessarily change much of the divorce equation. About the only situation where the information plays a role may be to prove adultery. Even in that situation, proving adultery might not alter custody, alimony, or property division at all. Before diving into how to collect location evidence, you should really ask yourself what you hope to gain from the knowledge, whether the outcome is worth the effort, and if the benefit justifies the ramifications:

  • Emotional Closure: Sometimes divorce is difficult because its hard to believe that your partner's activities are real.
  • Legal Proof: Sometimes adultery or abandonment cases require proof in order to get a favorable outcome in lieu of waiting for a standard separation divorce. Be careful, however, in that depending on your local legal system, self-obtained evidence may be inadmissable.
  • Cost Reduction: Sometimes you can reduce the cost of your private investigator by pointing them towards an in progress transgression to reduce payments on stakeouts.
  • Other: There can be any number of reasons a person feels compelled to "know."

Tracking Options

There are a lot of options for tracking vehicles. Each comes with their own set of pros and cons that must be weighed by the context of your situation. Although "Follow Them" is listed for completeness, it's there for the sake of making you consider ramifications by comparison ... please do not do that.

Option Pro Con
Private Investigator Legal
Admissible Evidence
Follow Them N/A Stalking Charges
Technology Save Money
Usually Legal
Probably Inadmissible

A Private Investigator (PI) is generally the best and most professional option at your disposal for obtaining location information. In virtually every jurisdiction, a PI is required to be registered and licensed by the state through their local police department. Most of them are former police officers or detectives themselves. As such, you're virtually guaranteed their methods will be in accordance with the law. Another benefit to utilizing the PI route is admissibility. Despite their "bias" in that you're a paying customer, the core of their business requires them to be an unbiased, third party simply reporting observed facts which means most courts will accept their testimony. The disadvantage of a PI is their costs tend to be high. While through their professional experience they generally produce results, getting those results takes an unpredictable amount of time and a PI charges by the hour.

The do-it-yourself route will probably result in inadmissible evidence by any tech savvy judge or tech savvy lawyer. Why? The "evidence" is digital which can be manipulated by nothing more than Windows Notepad and there is no chain of custody surrounding it to ensure what was gathered is what is presented. That said, there is a chance that it could be admissible in a less contested case because in many situations, there are not many options for proving adultery charges when one party denies it. Sometimes courts are simply looking for plausible "motivation and opportunity" and will accept several weaker forms of evidence that corroborate the larger situation. But there is no guarantee that situation will apply to you.

How To Do It - External Device

One popular item was highlighted by the hit show Breaking Bad. This style tracker is commonly mimicked for its simplicity - it requires some batteries and then sticks magnetically to the vehicle. The differing factor between these devices are their storage capacities, battery life, and ultimately data presentation. It should be obvious this device should be attached somewhere inconspicuous beneath the vehicle in a location unlikely to get knocked off by road debris.

Battery life can be a significant issue for these external units. While data logging is not taxing on the system, GPS transceivers tend to consume power. It will be necessary to check on the unit frequently to ensure there is adequate power. On that note, frequent checks of the unit would be required anyway simply to download the data logs. Bear in mind that frequently checking on the unit would require the conspicuous act of laying down around/beneath a vehicle which could give away the surveillance to either the subject or the subject's friends (e.g. neighbors).

Data presentation can also be a huge issue. Some trackers include software to interpret the data logs and they might produce a formatted output file or Google Earth overlays. Do you use Apple products - there's a chance these devices only provide Windows software. Other vehicle trackers might simply provide a raw data log requiring some technical savvy to put it into a meaningful format. This data transformation is a significant reason to understand why personally collected vehicle location information could be inadmissible. It is too easy for someone to manipulate the downloaded raw data for any court to trust its veracity. This is, after all, a period where each person's story boils down to "did too" and "did not" versions.

How To Do It - Internal Device

Another option is this internal unit from Mobile Asset Solutions which proved to be very simple, low cost, and effective. The device itself was produced to allow commercial motor pools to monitor their fleets and drivers. Available from Amazon, the MT-OBD Live GPS Vehicle Tracker with Engine Diagnostics could also be useful outside of divorce surveillance with its OBD II interface. This device is much smaller than a deck of cards and can plug discreetly into the OBD II diagnostic port under the driver's dashboard. A potentially helpful feature for admissibility, although not guaranteed, is that all data is centrally handled via their service.

Mobile Asset Solutions OBDII GSM Tracker

There are indicator lights on the unit, it is after all designed for commercial purposes, which could give its presence away when the subject is driving at night. A quick strip or two of electrical tape will cover those up and keep the unit hidden in the dark. The MT-OBD Live GPS Vehicle Tracker can be left in the target vehicle as long as necessary without interaction because it draws power from the OBDII port, activates only when the vehicle is on, and reports all of its findings over a GSM cellular connection. The only reason to interact with the unit is to retrieve it when data collection is complete - or to keep it hidden (vehicle goes in for services or emissions inspection).

As a commercial product, the Mobile Asset Solutions devices can operate under a variety of service plans. One of the cheaper options was a three month service subscription that allowed for an update every two minutes. For this sort of situation, that frequency of data proved to be more than adequate. The subscription activates the equipment with its embedded SIM card onto the Sprint mobile network allowing it to transmit its location and vehicle information via SMS. Although these subscriptions make the overall cost of ownership higher than an all-in-one external unit, the simplicity, the data presentation, and the covertness could be worth the money.

Using the Mobile Asset Solutions provides a nice clean set of data through a simple web page interface, exportable .csv files, and even a Google Maps overlay of the vehicle's whereabouts. A particularly handy use of their Google Maps interface is an ability to draw a geo-fence around certain locations. When the vehicle enters the chosen location, the subscription will send a notification SMS to a designated mobile. This feature can be particularly useful if a Private Investigator's services are also being used. Rather than pay by the hour for discovery, the investigator can be alerted to hone in on specific locations to save time and money.

Item #38 reveals the illicit stopping point.

The Mobile Asset Solutions website compiles the details into various output options with user selected fields. For these purposes, reducing the output to the vehicle's starting and stopping points easily revealed where it goes and how long it stays there.

A glimpse at the vehicle's movement log.

Unintended Side Effects

As mentioned earlier, there are more ramifications to this type of information than simply "knowing the truth." Although this data could facilitate the requested proof of opportunity for infidelity, the details actually reveal much more and that information can be difficult to handle. For example, tracking this data over time revealed not just a very high frequency of opportunity, but a pattern-of-life behavior where the subject dropped our daughter off with her grandparents in the morning only to spend 4-6 hours a day with another married man. It's one thing to know that infidelity is happening, but it's entirely different to know how it's happening and nobody can really be prepared for how such knowledge impacts you until it is revealed.

  • Be prepared to deal with the emotional impact of the full revelation from what you discover - about the activities themselves, about who the subject reveals themselves to be, and about yourself for gathering the information.
  • Be prepared for the subject to lie to your face every single day about where they were during the data collection phase.
  • Be prepared to pretend you do not know (because as per any intelligence operation, if you reveal what you know too early, you compromise your source).
  • Be prepared to handle the backlash when your knowledge becomes apparent to the other party.

That last bullet is an important point to consider. If the point of collecting this evidence is to make a case with it, or to prove some point, that directly implies the subject will be made acutely aware they were under surveillance. Even if that subject understands why it happened, there is no human being that reacts well to discovering 1) they've actually been under surveillance and 2) that their lies have been completely exposed. Although you are feeling vindicated for discovering a lie, the opposite party now feels an egregious violation of their privacy and will likely respond in kind. You must be prepared for a highly negative response when the "fact of" vehicle location tracking is revealed.


I am not interested in helping a spouse engaged with infidelity to hide from surveillance. However, divorce cases can get ugly quickly and even the "guilty" party can take actions against the other. Keep in mind that any surveillance you conduct, could be conducted against you as well - not to build a case of infidelity but perhaps to build a case to discredit you in other fashions. That data could be used to show that as a father you are never home due to work. Maybe you frequent a bar with coworkers and now can be typecast as a drunk. The driving data could also show that you drive recklessly which in turn makes a stronger case for the mother to take custody. Vehicle surveillance can be used for more than just proving opportunity for infidelity.

Countering a vehicle tracking device can be tricky but the first steps are simply to know-the-technology, know-your-vehicle, and know-your-opponent. Regarding the technology, the how-to's above pretty much reveal what you need to look for. Look under the driver's dashboard to find an OBD II device. Take a cursory look beneath the vehicle in the wheel wells, along the frame members, and behind the bumpers for magnet mounts. One class of device can be spliced into your vehicle's power system - but would require a little time and access. Simply make sure your vehicle is in sight of people that might tell you about persons lurking suspiciously around it (PIs or future ex-spouses).

You don't need to physically find it to realize there is one. People make mistakes all of the time that reveal their activities. Look on home computers for new software related to handling the device's logged data. Look in the browser history for websites related to vehicle tracking. Look at credit cards for on-line purchases to companies offering vehicle tracking devices or for service subscription agreements (like Mobile Asset Solutions). Look at Amazon purchase histories for the devices themselves. Remember to cover all those bases yourself if you engage in doing this on your own.

If you discover a device being used on your vehicle, remember that you were planning the same thing. Blowing your stack about an invasion of privacy or a demonstrated lack of trust is purely hypocritical. Furthermore, the argumentative tone will be used against you if anyone witnesses it. Just quietly dispose of their equipment and pretend you never knew.


The decision to obtain vehicle tracking information should not be made lightly. It needs to be done in accordance with your local laws and with due regard whether the data will serve a valuable purpose. Above everything else, consult your attorney and ask your local police.

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