How to Petition for Involuntary Treatment

It’s not easy to watch a loved one become enmeshed in the trap of drug addiction. You see them heading straight for a fall, and you feel powerless to stop it. Talking, pleading, threatening, coaxing, wheedling and reasoning have all failed. You’ve even staged a professional intervention with no results. You’re at the point where you must either walk away or try something truly drastic, such as involuntary commitment to a drug rehab facility. Many states have laws allowing this under certain circumstances, but requirements vary from state to state. Since Florida’s Marchman Act is representative of such legislation, this article will use that to explain how to petition for involuntary treatment.

The Petition

You will first need to prepare and file a court document called a petition. Since you are the one filing, you are called the petitioner. The other party is called the respondent. You must be ready to swear under oath that you have personal knowledge that the respondent both has lost control of their drug use and that they are a danger to themselves or others. You must be a family member, such as a parent, sibling or spouse. If you’re not, you will need to find two other people to sign the petition with you.

Hire an Attorney

Like most matters of law, preparing and filing the petition is tricky. It’s easy to make a technical mistake that the respondent’s attorney can use to have it dismissed. If that happens, the judge will dismiss the action, and you must start over if you still want to pursue the matter. It’s best to hire an attorney to prepare the petition and represent you at the hearing.

The respondent has a powerful edge that you don’t. He or she will have an attorney appointed for them by the court free of charge. You will also be responsible for any financial arrangements for the drug rehab treatment should the judge order it. As the petitioner, the entire burden of proof is yours. The respondent doesn’t have to prove they don’t have a drug problem. You have to prove that they do and convince the judge of such. Before going ahead with the petition, stop to think about your relationship with this person, and understand that such an action could permanently damage it. No one wants to be forced into anything.

The Hearing

When the petition is ready, it must be served on the respondent. Your next step is to attend the court hearing. If the respondent fails to appear after being served with the court summons, the judge will probably order the police to pick them up and detain them for another hearing. At this hearing, the judge will determine if your petition is valid or not. If there are any technical mistakes, you can be sure the respondent’s attorney will get it dismissed. The attorney will also try to discredit your claims. Judges take these matters very seriously because you are asking them to deprive someone of their right to liberty when they have committed no crime.

The Evaluation

If the judge thinks the petition has merit, he or she will order the respondent to report to a treatment center selected by the court. If the respondent fails to obey, they’re in contempt of court and can be arrested and delivered to the facility by force. The facility will evaluate the respondent and make its report to the court. It will either confirm that treatment is necessary, deny it or change it from involuntary to voluntary treatment. If that happens, the petition is basically moot, anyway. The judge may also decide the petition isn’t valid. In that case, the respondent is free to go.

If the facility recommends treatment, the judge will decide the amount of treatment time. It’s usually 60 to 90 days. It may or may not be successful, but someone forced into treatment may not benefit from it very much. Again, think carefully before even filing the petition. Is it worth it? What if they get out of treatment and start abusing drugs all over again, only now, there’s a big rift between the two of you? Will they ever trust you again? Will they hate you? This person isn’t a child. They’re an adult. Think. Maybe there’s another way.

We Can Help

We’re a group of experienced drug counselors here to provide help for situations just like this. While we can explain the involuntary commitment process in your area if there is one, we can also offer alternatives. Maybe another intervention might be a better idea. We’d also be happy to talk to the person themselves and try to persuade them into treatment rather than force them. There might be a better way. Just call us anytime at 833-497-3808, and we’d be happy to help.