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Three Party Commitment Petitions January 29, 2010

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Involuntary Committment, mental illness.
Tags: ,

Throughout my (admittedly very short) “career” as a spokesperson for NAMI’s In Our Own Voice program, I hear the same sad story over and over again.  Parents, afraid of their adult dysfunctional and/or dangerously mentally ill children, are unable to get help for them. With nowhere to go but the streets, parents reluctantly allow their scary offspring to stick around home, hoping that the now-grown “child” will somehow miraculously become well enough to get the medical help he needs. As the child slips deeper into the clutches of mental illness, his paranoia grows stronger, and the parent joins the long and growing list of “they” who are out to get him.

What is  a parent supposed to do? Throw the child out on the street? And yet the child cannot fend for himself because of his severe mental illness. Unable to get the child help because of the way the commitment laws are written, the parent suffers through years of living this tortured existence. Coming home from work each day, wondering if today will be the day.  Waiting for the child to make a real solid attempt at killing himself or someone else  so that he can finally cross that threshold to get involuntarily committed to a mental hospital.

Today’s Seattle Times featured an article written by Martha Monfried about the disgusting state of affairs regarding mental illness in Washington State. In her article, she cajoled the legislature to pass legislation this session that would allow families in Washington State to petition the court to commit their loved ones who suffer from mental illness.  Not knowing whether she was asking for new legislation or  passage of existing legislation, I did some searching and found nothing along the lines of anything resembling existing legislation for the State of Washington. That doesn’t  mean it isn’t out there. It just means I can’t find it.

In the meantime, I did find other legislation.  I like what I found. What do you think?

Three Party Commitment Petition

Wisconsin is a state of least restrictive treatment, meaning a person seeking treatment for mental health, developmental disabilities, drug dependency or alcoholism has the right to pursue treatment in the least restrictive environment appropriate for their needs.

If a person is willing to seek help on a voluntary basis, there is no need to pursue a Three-Party Petition.

Since Wisconsin is a least restrictive state, the law governing our mental health system (Chapter 51) emphasizes protecting individual rights and liberties.  The laws favor voluntary over involuntary treatment.  However, there are three ways in which to force involuntary treatment in the State of Wisconsin:

  • Emergency Detention
  • Director’s Petition (also known as Director’s Hold)
  • Three-Party Petition

Emergency Detentions – (51.15, WI STATS)

These are initiated when an individual is presently a danger to themselves or others.  The detention is obtained by contacting law enforcement.

Director’s Petitions (or “Director’s Hold”) – (51.10(5)(c) and 51.15 (10), WI STATS)

These are used only by psychiatrists when a person who has been seeking services voluntarily and then decides that they want to leave the psychiatric unit and the psychiatrist does not believe that is appropriate for the person.  The psychiatrist must be able to state that the person will be dangerous (to self and/or others) if allowed to leave the hospital.

Three-Party Petitions – (51.20 (1), WI STATS)

These actions occur if there are recent dangerous conducts/behaviors present AND one or more of the following disabilities exists:  mental illness, drug dependency and/or developmental disabilities.

To substantiate mental illness, drug dependency or developmental disability, you will need to provide information on the current physician, diagnoses, medications and dates of last treatment.  The person also must be a proper subject for treatment.

Dangerous conduct/behavior is defined as specific acts, attempts or threats which constitute a substantial risk of physical harm to self and/or others, according to the following standards:

  1. Danger to oneself (for ex., suicidal thoughts/actions)
  2. Danger to others (for ex., homicidal thoughts/actions)
  3. Impaired judgment in that the person is not able to make decisions that are appropriate and potentially dangerous (for ex., believing that they possess super powers and that they can fly if they jump off a building)
  4. Behavior indicating the person can’t take care of themselves or meet their own basic needs(for ex., person refuses to eat or does not dress appropriately for the weather conditions) so that substantial probability exists that death, serious physical injury, debilitation or disease will imminently ensue unless the person receives prompt adequate treatment.
  5. Fifth Standard – This standard is different from the other involuntary civil commitment statutes because it requires a finding that the person suffering from a mental illness is in need of treatment AND there must be a finding that the person is incompetent to refuse medication.  This is why the Fifth Standard is also referred to as the “need for treatment” alternative to the other four standards.  The Fifth Standard also does not require the finding of dangerousness to be immediate or overt, as it is with the first four standards.

Three-Party Petitions for Alcoholism also have a different standard.  A petition may be filed if the person’s dependence on alcohol substantially impairs or endangers the person’s health AND their social or economic functioning is substantially disrupted.  Please remember that simply being an alcoholic is not automatic grounds for a petition.  There are many people who are alcoholics and still able to function well enough in their lives.  In this context, substantially means a severe degree of impairment, endangerment or disruption.

This process may take time.  Depending upon several factors and the evidence presented, some petitions could take weeks to bring to court.  During this period of time, an emergency detention can be started, if necessary.  If the emergency detention process is started, the three-party petition will be put “on hold.”

If you believe that you have the necessary information to meet the standards for a three-party petition (as outlined above), you may contact the Information & Assistance unit of the Racine County Human Services Department at 262-638-6321 to start the referral process.  Please understand that, in addition to meeting the standards, the following criteria must all be met:

  • There are three (3) people, including yourself, with at least one person with first-hand knowledge of the person’s situation
  • All three persons are willing to sign a petition
  • All three persons are willing to testify in court

Website: http://www.hsd.racineco.com/MentalHealth/ThreePartyCommitmentPetition/tabid/194/Default.aspx



1. Astrid - January 30, 2010

Interesting information. It surprises me that in Washington no relative can file for involuntary commitment. In the Netherlands they can, although they mus thave a medical recommendation from a qualified psychiatirst or other physician, and that physician’s information will be the main evidence used by the court.

2. moodybpgirl - February 1, 2010

I definitely think this issue needs to be revisited in mental health policy. I think in third party and power of attorney cases the legislation seems to be based on the worst case scenario of family members abusing their power to lock people away because they just don’t want to deal with them, or pulling the plug on someone just to collect a life insurance policy, etc. I’m sure this happens but it’s in the extreme minority of cases. I’ve never heard of someone trying to get a family member institutionalized just to get rid of him or her; but I’ve known more people than I can count who have watched their loved ones deteriorate into major mental illness and have been powerless to help them.

3. moodybpgirl - February 1, 2010

btw, how are you liking In Our Own Voice? I am taking facilitator training in April and I don’t quite know what to expect.

4. MIM - March 9, 2011

Thank you so much for your post. The information is very valuable. Unlike most family members dealing with mental illness, I am an adult child of the patient. It hurts me to see my mother suffering and have little to do to help her.

Kathy - October 17, 2011

I agree with MIM. Not only does it hurt, it very frustrating. I am also an adult child of a mother dealing with mental illness. I can’t believe there isn’t a step in between the person voluntarily going in for treatement and a person having to be taken in by the police. How can you convince a person to take the medication? She believes everyone else needs medication, not her.

Another frustrating part of this is that in the past year she has been in and out of hospitals 6 times, and still refuses to take the meds. Its amazing how they are protected from getting the treatment they need, but they aren’t protected from themselves.

Crazy Mermaid - October 19, 2011

I wrote a blog about one of the more terrible symptoms of schizophrenia. I don’t know whether your mom has this, but part of their illness is their refusal to see that they have an illness. This symptom is called anosognonia.

5. Emily - March 7, 2012

Thank-you very much! My mother was committed in Wisconsin for alcoholism many years back and I remembered signing the petition, but because it was several years ago I could not remember the procedure. She had relapsed many times after that, but I’m proud to say she has been sober for close to two years now. With her new sobriety she has taken the time to care for someone with similar problems. The person she is caring for was just life flighted to the hospital hours ago due to substance abuse complications, and she called me for advise on how to commit him. Your web site helped us tremendously! Thank-you again!

6. Laura Brook - May 12, 2012

Laura – May 12, 2012

I am one of those parents who feel totally helpless. My son is 19 and has been suffering with mental illness for the past 5 years. My family has suffered just as much on a daily basis. I often feel like packing up my daughter and husband and running away. I am going to look into the three party petition for our own sanity.

Tina - June 18, 2013

Hi Laura and thank you for sharing your situation. Mine is similar – daughter, now 18 years old, suffering for at least 6 years, multiple therapists, psychiatrists, 2 inpatient hospitalizations (only 1 week of course because of restrictive insurance company policies) and 1 day treatment stay (again only 5 days). Eventually alcohol and marijuana became involved. I’ve gotten a lot of information and support from my local NAMI (Waukesha, WI) and may very well have to utilize the third party petition option in order to have a chance at getting back my precious daughter back.

7. Heidi - July 2, 2012

Like two posters above, I am also the adult child of someone who is mentally ill. My mother is a schizophrenic with delusions of persecution, and has been for 30 years. She has never been treated for more than a week or two, and that does no good. I have a hearing tomorrow on a three party petition, and I am a nervous wreck that they will let her go. I’m so afraid for her, and I just want her to not be afraid, and to be safe.

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