Marchman Act Frequently Asked Questions
The Marchman Act is a Florida law that allows the family or friends of someone addicted to drugs or alcohol to file a petition for court-ordered assessment and possible treatment. The Marchman Act process is a civil procedure, not a criminal one, and it will not leave your loved one with a criminal record, provided they comply with any court orders that result from the proceedings.
The official name of this law is the “Hal S. Marchman Alcohol and Other Drug Services Act of 1993.” It allows concerned individuals to petition the courts about substance use disorders involving alcohol, prescription drugs, or illegal street drugs like methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, MDMA, or LSD.1
A Marchman Act proceeding starts with a petition for involuntary assessment and stabilization. The court is likely to grant the petition if there is a good faith reason to believe:1
- The individual has lost control of their substance use.
- The individual has caused physical harm to themselves or another person or is likely to inflict physical harm if they do not enter treatment.
- The individual has impaired judgement that makes them incapable of making a rational decision about their need for addiction treatment.
- The individual refuses to submit voluntarily to a professional assessment when a reasonable person would do so in similar circumstances.
Short-term emergency admission or protective custody can be ordered by a person’s physician or a law enforcement officer. However, most Marchman Act proceedings are initiated by a friend or relative of the addicted person. A petition may be filed by an adult person’s:
- Licensed service provider with a valid power of attorney
- Unrelated adult friend with firsthand knowledge of the person’s substance use
For people under 18 years of age, the requirements are different. The Marchman Act process can be used by:
- A parent, guardian, or custodian of the child
- A licensed service provider, addiction treatment specialist, or mental health professional
The Marchman Act is designed to help the friends and family of a person who is struggling with addiction get them into treatment. It is a way to provide lifesaving care to someone who needs substance abuse services but is unable or unwilling to recognize how dangerous their addiction has become. Ultimately, the Marchman Act was created to help addicted people enter a treatment center and get the support they need, based on evidence provided by caregivers, family, and friends.
The Marchman Act is only in effect in the state of Florida. However, many other states and the District of Columbia have similar laws allowing for the involuntary assessment, commitment, and treatment of those who have untreated addictions or mental illness. Many of these programs would allow the individual to attend a licensed treatment program in Florida, even if the legal hearing takes place in another state.
You should file a Marchman Act petition in the county where the person who needs treatment resides. Each County Clerk may have a slightly different process or set of forms to fill out. In some cases, you may need to meet with a counselor at a designated treatment center to complete the paperwork. Keep in mind that, as the petitioner, you will be required to attend all future hearings.
Once a Marchman Act petition has been filed with the county, the process will proceed like this:
- The judge or local magistrate will determine if the situation is an emergency, requiring law enforcement to pick up the person immediately.
- If the situation is found to be less urgent, a summons will be served to the individual as it is for any other civil proceeding.
- Both parties can have lawyers present if they choose. The court will appoint an attorney to defend the respondent (the individual being assessed) at no charge if they cannot afford one.
- A hearing will be held to determine if involuntary assessment is appropriate, which the petitioner and the respondent will need to attend.
- It is up to the petitioner and/or their attorney to prove that the other person has an addiction and meets the criteria of the Marchman Act.
- At the hearing, the court may order the respondent to be held for up to five days for stabilization and assessment at a state-certified evaluation center.
- A second court hearing will be scheduled to review the results of the involuntary assessment, where the judge will determine if a 60-day involuntary care order should be issued, requiring the respondent to report to an approved treatment facility.
The treatment center is not “locked down” under the Marchman Act, and they will not physically prevent a client from leaving the facility against medical advice. However, the police may be called to pick up the client and return them to the treatment facility.
The client may be held in contempt of court for violating the court order by leaving the facility early or failing to abstain from drugs or alcohol. Contempt of court is a crime which can be punishable with fines or jail time.
A plan to pay for the court-ordered treatment is an essential part of a Marchman Act petition. Depending on the situation, there are several ways the costs of assessment and treatment can be covered:
- If the petitioner has private insurance or the financial ability to pay for the respondent’s treatment, the court may order them to pay the costs of treatment.
- If the respondent has private insurance or the ability to pay for their own treatment, the court may order them to cover the costs.
- Many counties have a state-funded program that will cover the costs of assessment and treatment at a county-funded treatment center for those with no other way to pay for the care they need.
The total amount of time that can be ordered under a single Marchman Act petition is five days for evaluation and 180 days of involuntary treatment. Typically the court orders 60-90 days of treatment, which can be extended for another 90 days under the same petition. After this time, the patient will need to change to voluntary status to continue or another petition would need to be filed.
If you meet the criteria for the Marchman Act, you will be ordered to complete a 60-90 day initial treatment program. If the person who filed the petition for your involuntary treatment requests it, or if your treatment professionals feel it is necessary, the court may order another 90 days of involuntary treatment.
Any extension would need to be ordered within 10 days of the first court order expiration to be allowed under the same petition. If you successfully completed your treatment program and 10 days have passed without any notice from the court, your obligations under the Marchman Act have ended.
The Marchman Act is intended to be used under very specific circumstances for the protection of the individual who is struggling with addiction. There are many reasons a judge may decide that a respondent should not be subject to involuntary evaluation and treatment. Some of these include:2
- The petitioner does not prove that the individual meets the necessary criteria outlined in the Marchman Act.
- The respondent’s behavior may be more dangerous than an available treatment center can handle.
- There may be a need for treatment, but no funds available to pay for extended care.
- Required documentation might be missing, or critical filing deadlines missed, rendering the petition invalid.
While the Marchman Act is intended to protect individuals who have lost the ability to make rational treatment decisions for themselves, it is not appropriate to use this law to force people into treatment who are still capable of making sound medical decisions and who present no danger to themselves or others.
Keep these factors in mind:
- Fighting a Marchman Act petition involves working with your attorney to make clear that your judgment is not compromised by addiction.
- You can work with your lawyer to make clear that your behavior does not cause a risk of harm to yourself or others.
- Any failure of the petitioner to meet filing deadlines or requirements can be grounds for dismissing their legal petition against you.
- Voluntarily agreeing to assessment and/or treatment will also prevent a Marchman Act judgment, because a refusal to seek necessary treatment is a requirement of the act.
- Choosing to enter addiction treatment on your own allows you to remain in control of the type of program you participate in and where it is located.
The person filing the Marchman Act petition can usually drop the civil case at any time before the first court hearing. However, if law enforcement, medical professionals, or treatment specialists have become aware of an addicted person, and they believe the person poses a risk to their own safety or to those around them, the petition may continue under their involvement.
Once a person has been ordered to undergo involuntary assessment and/or treatment, their friend or family member has no control over that court order and cannot drop or ask for a dismissal of an active Marchman Act decision. As the person who asked for the court to take control of treatment decisions, you must remain involved and attend scheduled court hearings on the matter.
The nature of an involuntary commitment into a treatment program allows neither the patient or their loved ones to determine the course of action. The court will make decisions based on the best interest of the individual they have determined cannot make rational decisions on their own behalf.
Future court orders will be based on treatment progress reports provided to the judge. When the addicted individual has completed the required treatment and recovery professionals agree that they can care for themselves without supervision, then they will be released from involuntary care.