Who Can Initiate Marchman Act?

Who Can Initiate Marchman Act? Jul 30, 2021

Are you becoming more worried about a loved one’s drinking or substance use because they continue to refuse help? Fortunately, in Florida, there are options to have family members or friends committed to treatment despite their refusal. Yes, this can be an uncomfortable topic, but Florida’s Marchman Act can be an effective tool when used appropriately.

Florida’s Marchman Act law can be initiated through a formal petition by a spouse, relative, guardian, or three concerned unrelated adults who have witnessed a person’s uncontrollable substance use. A petition may also be filed by a physician, therapist, or law enforcement officer.

If you are concerned for a loved one and are exploring utilizing Florida’s Marchman Act, contact John Puls at South Florida Psychotherapy (708) 655-1863 for assistance. John is a licensed psychotherapist that specializes in Marchman Act assessment and other court services.


What is The Marchman Act?

The Marchman Act, short for The Hal S. Marchman Alcohol and Other Drug Services Act of 1993, is a Florida law that allows for emergency intervention for those over-using drugs or alcohol and presenting a threat to themselves or others. The Marchman Act helps reduce overdose deaths and can help give individuals the nudge they need to begin recovery.

Children under the age of 18 do not require Marchman Act to be involuntarily admitted to treatment. Parents are legally allowed to commit their children to treatment against their own wishes. That said, guardians may be required to utilize Marchman Act in order to commit a minor to treatment involuntarily.

Typically, The Marchman Act is initiated when an individual with a substance use disorder refuses to seek or accept care. Because It’s always recommended first to seek professional counsel and exhaust other alternatives, such as crisis interventions.


Intervention Should Come Before Marchman Act

Families often feel frustrated and sometimes seek solutions such as the Marchman Act before exhausting other options. If a formal, mediated crisis intervention has not been attempted, this can also be an effective tool and is always recommended before attempting to petition for involuntary commitment. Additionally, the Marchman Act can be used in conjunction with a formal intervention.

Even if you have tried having an intervention on your own, having an unbiased professional interventionist present can make a huge difference. John Puls at South Florida Psychotherapy is highly experienced in substance use disorder and helps facilitate such interventions.

Professional interventions can lead to the same desired result without the fees and court proceedings.


Marchman Act Process in Palm Beach County

The Marchman Act can sometimes be a complicated process. For full details, defer to the Marchman Act User Reference Guide from the Florida Department of Children & Families.

Admission to treatment under the Marchman Act is initiated in one of four ways:

1. Protective Custody by a law enforcement officer
2. Emergency admission with a certificate of a physician
3. Alternative involuntary admission for a minor by the minor’s guardian
4. Court-order assessment

Generally, the Marchman Act process includes:


1. Filing a Petition

The person wishing to file a petition must first go to their local court to obtain a Marchman Act package. Here is an example from Miami-Dade County Clerk. In Palm Beach County, you must appear in person at the Clerk of The Circuit Court & Comptroller’s office to complete a sworn affidavit (the petition) for both assessment and treatment.

Some families opt to retain an attorney at this stage to assist with paperwork and legal proceedings. There are attorneys who specialize in Marchman Act law and can help walk you through each stage of the process. You can fill out the paperwork on your own, but attorneys help streamline the process and ensure there are no missing pieces that may hold up court proceedings. For assistance with Marchman Act attorney referrals, feel free to call John Puls at (708) 655-1863.


2. Assessment Hearing

After the petition is filed, the clerk initiates a court case for the petition for assessment. Before a person can be ordered to treatment, they must first be ordered for assessment by a licensed facility or therapist. The assessment is used to determine whether a person meets the criteria for involuntary commitment for substance use treatment.

The court hearing is set within 10 days of filing the petition, and the respondent is served with a summons to appear in court by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. At the hearing, testimony is given both by the petitioner and the respondent. If the person meets the criteria for assessment, then the judge will grant the petition and set an appointment for an assessment.


3. Assessment

At this stage, the court has found the petition respondent to meet the criteria for assessment under Florida’s Marchman Act and is potentially a danger to themselves or others. The court now leaves it up to licensed addiction professionals to determine whether a person would benefit from involuntary commitment.

The court must receive a written assessment from the service provider within five days from the time the judge signed the petition. The respondent is given the option to appear to assessment voluntarily, but if they refuse or don’t show up, the Sheriff’s office will take the individual to their assessment. Depending on the circumstance and the individual’s willingness to comply, the judge can also place what is called an ex parte order, which authorizes emergency pick-up and assessment of the individual.

Assessments are conducted by licensed providers in Palm Beach County, such as South Florida Psychotherapy. At South Florida Psychotherapy, John Puls, LCSW, MCAP, is a Masters Certified Addiction Professional, highly experienced in the Marchman Act process and Marchman Act assessments in Palm Beach County. John consults concerned families, conducts interventions and assessments, acts as an expert witness in court, and files Marchman Act petitions when necessary.


4. Treatment Hearing

After receiving the written assessment, the clerk schedules a treatment hearing, which takes place within ten days of receiving the report. Again, all involved parties are issued a summons to appear in court.

At this hearing, the court decides whether the person meets the criteria to be involuntarily committed to an addiction treatment program. If the assessment recommends the person be committed to treatment, the Magistrate may order up to 90 days of treatment.


5. Treatment

At this stage, the individual has been ordered by Palm Beach County to complete an addiction treatment program. That said, it’s important to keep in mind that treatment facilities are not locked down. This means the individual may still leave treatment at will, though leaving treatment before completion can result in contempt of court, which could bring jail time.


Is Marchman Act Public Record?

No. Being ordered to treatment via the Marchman Act is a civil matter, and regardless of the outcome, records are sealed and confidential. There will never be a public or internet record of your loved one being ordered to treatment.

If an individual refuses treatment and is held in contempt of court, this can become a public record, though records will not indicate that contempt was in relation to Marchman Act orders.

For more information, visit the Palm Beach County Clerk’s mental health page.



Author: John Puls, LCSW, MCAP. John is a licensed psychotherapist in the state of Florida and a Master Certified Addiction Professional, as well as an adjunct professor at Florida Atlantic University.