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Information on this web page is general in nature. Descriptions of laws and court procedures are abbreviated. This information is not intended as legal advice. If you do not understand this information or if you need legal advice you should see an attorney.

Iowa Law Overview

You may start a court proceeding for the involuntary commitment, treatment, or hospitalization of another person who suffers a serious mental impairment or who has a substance-related disorder. The court procedures for each situation are similar but not identical.   

Involuntary commitment, treatment, or hospitalization generally means confinement of a person for treatment without the person's consent.

If you are beginning commitment proceedings on behalf of another person, you are called the Applicant and the person who is the subject of concern is the Respondent.

What is a 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 at liberty 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 at liberty 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 a substance-related disorder?

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

  • Habitually lacks self-control as to the use of 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 at liberty 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 start involuntary commitment proceedings?

To start involuntary commitment, you must file a verified application signed by a notary public with the clerk of court in the county where the respondent resides or is located. You must use the approved forms in Chapter 12 and 13 of the Iowa Court Rules, available on this website or from the clerk of court in the county where the respondent lives or is located. The application may be filed with the court in paper or electronically through the Iowa eFile system.  

With the verified application, you must provide:

  • one or more supporting affidavits (verified statements signed by a notary public) that confirm the application
  • a statement of a licensed physician in support of the application.   

What is the process for involuntary commitment? 

When the application is filed, the clerk of court will docket the case and notify a judge who will review the application and accompanying documents. The sheriff will receive notification to serve the named respondent.  The county attorney will be notified and have access to the application and accompanying documents.  

You may request that the respondent be taken into immediate custody. If the judge finds probable cause to believe that the respondent has a serious mental impairment or has a substance-related disorder and is likely to injure the respondent or other persons if allowed to remain at liberty, the judge may order the respondent to be detained until the hearing.   

If the application is adequate, the judge will set the matter for hearing. The hearing will be at least forty-eight 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 you, or by your attorney. 

You 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. You, as applicant, will have the burden of proving the contents of application for commitment.

Will there be an attorney to represent me or the respondent?

The court will determine if the respondent has an attorney, and if not, the court may appoint an attorney if the respondent is unable to pay for an attorney. If the application alleges serious mental impairment, the court may also appoint a mental health advocate for the respondent.  See Iowa Code chapter 229.

If the application for commitment is for substance-related disorder, the court may appoint an attorney for you if legal representation is necessary to assist you in a meaningful presentation of evidence and you are unable to pay for an attorney.   See Iowa Code chapter 125.

What happens after the hearing?

After the hearing the judge will make a decision.  The judge may either dismiss the case or order that the person be committed for treatment. See Iowa Code chapters 125 and 229.

Can the decision be appealed?

The decision of the judge can be appealed.  If the judge who decided the case was a magistrate, an appeal can be filed to a district court judge within ten days.  A decision of a district court judge can be appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court within 30 days.  See Iowa Code chapters 125 and 229.

What rights does a person have after being committed?

After person is committed, the person will be evaluated regularly by a medical officer.  The medical officer will file regular reports and indicate whether the person needs further treatment.  The reports will also indicate if the person can be released or if the person needs a different placement.  Each time there is an order about placement, a notice must be given to the person under commitment.  The person has a right to ask for a court hearing on placement.  

A person who has been committed also has the right to request to be released. The person must file “A Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus” with the court.  (Habeas Corpus is a Latin phrase meaning "you have the body." A Writ of Habeas Corus is a document a person files to have the court consider whether the person should be released from confinement.) After the petition is filed, the court will set a hearing, at which time the court will consider whether the person should be released. 

If a person under commitment has questions about the his or her rights, he or she should speak to an attorney. If the application alleges serious mental impairment, the assigned mental health advocate will also represent the interest of the person under commitment. 

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