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Hospitalizations (Commitments) for Serious Mental Impairment or Substance-Related Disorder

What does it mean to have a person committed?

A person who is committed is confined without the person’s consent by court order to a hospital or clinic for treatment of serious mental impairment or substance-related disorder or both.

What is serious mental impairment?

A person with serious mental impairment lacks sufficient judgment to make responsible decisions about the person's hospitalization or treatment, and who because of that condition:

  • Is likely to injure the person's self or others if allowed to remain free without treatment.
  • Is likely to inflict serious emotional injury on family members or others who lack reasonable opportunity to avoid contact with the person, if the person with mental illness is allowed to remain free without treatment.
  • Is unable to satisfy needs for nourishment, clothing, essential medical care, or shelter so that it is likely that the person will suffer physical injury, physical debilitation, or death without treatment.

See Iowa Code chapter 229.

What is substance-related disorder?

A person with substance-related disorder is a person who:

  • Habitually lacks self-control as to the use of drugs, alcohol, or other chemical substances to the extent that the person is likely to seriously endanger the person's health, or is likely to physically injure the person's self or others if allowed to remain free without treatment.
  • Is unable to make responsible decisions with respect to the need for hospitalization or treatment.

See Iowa Code chapter 125.

How do I have a person committed?

To have a person committed, you must file an application with the clerk of court in the county where the respondent (person you are committing) resides or is located. You must use the approved forms in Chapters 12 and 13 of the Iowa Court Rules. Applications must be notarized and supported with an affidavit from another person confirming the allegations in the application. The court forms are available at no charge on the Iowa Judicial Branch website at:

Additional information can be found on the Iowa Judicial Branch website at:

The person to be committed must be a danger to themselves or others, for example, the person is suicidal or homicidal.

If you are beginning commitment proceedings against another person, you are called the “Applicant,” and the person who may be committed is the “Respondent.”

Can I file to have someone committed if the person is not at a hospital?

Yes. A person does not have to already be in the hospital to be committed.

Where do I file an application for commitment?

The application may be filed with the clerk of court in the county where the respondent is located, or in the county where respondent lives.
If the courthouse is closed and it is an emergency, you may contact the local hospital or law enforcement agency for assistance.

Why won’t court staff give me any information once the respondent has been picked up?

Commitments are confidential. Court staff will tell you when and where the commitment hearing is, but they are unable to tell you anything about the case. Even if you are the applicant, the clerk cannot give you information about the case.

What is a commitment hearing?

If the application for commitment is adequate, the judge will set the matter for hearing. The hearing will be at least 48 hours after notice to the respondent, unless the respondent waives the time requirement. Before the hearing, the court may require a physician to examine the respondent.

At the hearing for a matter concerning serious mental impairment, the county attorney will present evidence in support of the contentions in the application. At a hearing concerning an allegation of substance-related disorder, the evidence may be presented by the county attorney, by the applicant, or by the applicant’s attorney.

The applicant and the respondent will each be given an opportunity to testify and to present and cross-examine witnesses. Only persons necessary for the hearing will be allowed to attend. The proceedings are a civil matter, not criminal. The applicant will have the burden of proving the contents of the application for commitment.

Why has the respondent not been picked up yet?

There can be a number of reasons the respondent has not been picked up yet. Many times the sheriff is unable to locate the respondent. The applicant may want to contact the local sheriff. Also, there is often a shortage of hospital beds for involuntary commitments. Law enforcement may not pick up a respondent unless there is an available bed for treatment of mental health or substance-related disorders.

Can a minor have a person committed?

No. The person signing the application must be at least 18 years old.

Can someone from out of state have a person committed in Iowa?

Yes, the applicant may be from out of state.

Depending on the county, sometimes both the applicant and the person providing the corroborating affidavit or the licensed physician providing a written statement in support of the application are required to be at the hearing.

Does a family member have to request the commitment?

No. A commitment does not have to involve a family member. An application can be filed by two interested parties 18 years of age or older or a medical health care professional.

Does the applicant have to be related to the respondent?

No. The applicant does not need to be related to the respondent to file an application for commitment. The applicant must have first hand knowledge of how the respondent is a danger to themselves or others.

Will I find out today if this application for commitment is approved?

Generally, yes. You should know whether the application is approved or not on the day of filing. But that does not necessarily mean that the person will be picked up that same day.

Does it cost anything to file an application for commitment?

No, there is no filing fee when an applicant files an involuntary hospitalization or substance-related disorder application.

How long will it take to locate a hospital bed?

It is often very difficult to know when a hospital bed might be available. Facility bed space for such treatment is very limited and court staff have no control over when a bed may become available.

Do I have to be there when the sheriff picks up the respondent?

No, you do not need to be there when the sheriff picks up the Respondent.

What will happen to the respondent's children and pets when the sheriff comes to pick up respondent?

If there is a responsible adult there, or if a responsible adult will arrive right away when the sheriff comes, the sheriff will leave respondent’s children with that adult. If there is no adult, the sheriff will call the Department of Human Services (DHS). Specific practices may vary by county.

Arrangements will have to be made for any animals, livestock, or pets.

Can I visit respondent in the hospital?

Normally yes, but you should check with the hospital to confirm visitation policies.

Does the respondent have to stay in the hospital until the hearing?

Yes, the respondent will have to stay in the hospital unless a physician decides the respondent should not be committed and releases the respondent sooner.

May I talk to the judge about the commitment process?

Typically, you may talk to the judge only if the other party is present and the judge is available. If you must ask the court an important question or tell the court something important, you should put it in writing and either file it in the case or give it to the clerk of court.

May I take the respondent to the hospital myself?

Yes, if you feel safe doing so you may take the respondent to the hospital yourself.

Will the respondent know who filed the application?

Yes, the respondent will receive a copy of the application for commitment.

Will the respondent know this has been filed before the sheriff picks them up?

No. These cases are confidential and the clerk of court will not inform the respondent of the application. The respondent will not know an application for commitment has been filed before the sheriff picks up the respondent unless you tell the respondent. The sheriff will provide the respondent a copy.

What should I do if the person isn’t following the treatment plan?

If the person isn’t following the treatment plan, you must describe the problem in writing or ask the provider to put something in writing, and contact the clerk of court office about filing it with the court.

Is there something I can do when the clerk of court office is not open and this person is in immediate danger of hurting themselves or others?

You should take the person to a treatment facility if it is safe to do so. If you are concerned about safety, you should call law enforcement.

If a law enforcement officer has reasonable grounds to believe that a person has a serious mental impairment or a substance-related disorder, the officer may, without a warrant, take or cause that person to be taken to the nearest available facility. Or, the person may be delivered to a facility or hospital by someone other than a peace officer.

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