Understanding the Civil Commitment Process

Wisconsin has civil commitment laws that outline criteria for when involuntary treatment is appropriate. For a person with mental illness to receive court-ordered inpatient or outpatient treatment, s/he must have a treatable mental illness, drug dependency or developmental disability and meet one of the criteria for establishing dangerousness.

Because the emergency detention and civil commitment process can be confusing and overwhelming, we have provided information below to help you better understand the civil commitment process. You can also download a more detailed guide to the civil commitment process. 

What is a commitment?

A civil commitment is a court order for up to six months of inpatient or outpatient mental health treatment. A commitment begins in one of three ways; click the links below to learn more about each process.

  1. Emergency detention by law enforcement
  2. Emergency detention by treatment director
  3. 3-party petition

Note that the maximum time someone can be held before a probable cause hearing is 72 hours (excluding weekends and holidays). Before a final hearing, it is 14 days.

Possible Outcomes

Potential next steps following detention include:

  • County attorney may offer the person a "settlement agreement". This is NOT a commitment, but an agreement to enter into voluntary treatment.
  • A waiver of the probable cause hearing.
  • A probable cause hearing. If probable cause is found, potential next steps include a settlement agreement, stipulation to order of commitment, or a final hearing.
  • A final hearing. If the case goes to a final hearing, there may be an order of civil commitment, conversion to guardianship, or case dismissed.

Each of the potential outcomes listed above are described in more detail in the following document developed by NAMI Wisconsin.

What are my rights?

You can download this document to better understand your rights throughout the commitment process. If you feel your rights have been violated, reach out to Disability Rights Wisconsin at (800) 928-8778.