Iowa Judicial Branch
For the Public
Pay Fines
Jury Service
Domestic Violence
Representing Yourself in Court
How to Represent Yourself
Divorce/Family Law
Small Claims
Collecting a Judgment
Name Change
Civil Court Fees
Find a Lawyer
Common Legal Terms
Court Services
Court Structure
For Students & Teachers


 Iowa Law 

State law enables a person to commence a court proceeding for the involuntary commitment or treatment 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.   

Serious Mental Impairment 

Serious mental impairment means the condition of a person with mental illness and because of that illness the person lacks sufficient judgment to make responsible decisions with respect to the person's hospitalization or treatment, and who because of that illness meets any of the following criteria: 

  • 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 members of the person's family or others who lack reasonable opportunity to avoid contact with the person with mental illness if the person with mental illness is allowed to remain at liberty without treatment.
  • Is unable to satisfy the person's 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. 

 Substance-Related Disorder 

 A person with a substance-related disorder means a person who meets all of the following criteria: 

  • 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.
  • Lacks sufficient judgment to make responsible decisions with respect to the person's hospitalization or treatment.

  How to Proceed 

To commence an action for involuntary hospitalization, you must file a verified application with the clerk of court in the county where the person who is the subject of concern resides or is presently located. Also, you must provide one or more supporting affidavits (verified written statements) that corroborate the application as well as a written statement of a licensed physician in support of the application.   

 Please use the following forms: 


Service of Notice  

Upon the filing of an application, the clerk of court will docket the case and notify a judge who shall review the application and accompanying documents. The clerk will send copies of the application and supporting documentation to the sheriff to serve upon the respondent. 

The clerk shall also send copies of the documents to the county attorney. If the application alleges serious mental impairment, the clerk will also provide copies of documents to the mental health advocate in the county of the respondent's legal settlement. 


 An applicant 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.   

 Appointment of Counsel  

After the filing of the application, the court shall determine if the respondent has an attorney. The court may appoint an attorney to represent the respondent if the respondent is financially unable to pay for an attorney. 

In a matter involving an allegation of substance-related disorder, the law allows the court to appoint an attorney for the applicant if legal representation is necessary to assist the applicant in a meaningful presentation of evidence and the applicant is financially unable to pay for an attorney.   


If the application is adequate, the judge will set the matter for hearing. The hearing shall not be less than forty-eight hours after notice to the respondent unless the respondent waives the time requirement. Prior to the hearing, the court may require an examination of the respondent by a physician. 

At the hearing for a matter concerning serious mental impairment, the county attorney shall 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, the applicant, or the applicant's attorney. 

The applicant and the respondent shall be given an opportunity to testify and to present and cross-examine witnesses. All persons not necessary for the conduct of the proceedings shall be excluded. The matter shall be tried as a civil matter. There shall be a presumption in favor of the respondent and the burden of evidence in support of the contentions in the application shall be on the applicant.  

If upon completion of the hearing the court finds that the contention has not been sustained by clear and convincing evidence, the court shall deny the application and terminate the proceedings. Please Note: Information on this website is not intended to serve as legal advice and should not be construed as such. Also, judges and court employees are prohibited from giving legal advice. If you need legal advice, you should consult with an attorney. The following site contains suggestions about how to find an attorney: 

In addition, the information provided in this site is general in nature. Descriptions of laws and court rules are abridged. When in doubt as to the precise requirements or content of a law or court rule, you should check the official source or consult with your attorney. 

Follow us on Twitter - @IowaCourts return to top