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File a Section 35 petition

Find out how and where you can file a Section 35 petition to commit a person at risk of hurting themself or others because of alcohol or drug abuse.

District Court, Boston Municipal Court (BMC), and Juvenile Court locations

The Details of File a Section 35 petition

How to file File a Section 35 petition

Start the process as early as possible by going to your nearest District Court, Boston Municipal Court (BMC) or Juvenile Court. The court opens at 8:30 a.m. Go to the clerk’s office and ask for the person who helps with the Section 35 petitions. It's helpful if you know where the respondent is.

Fill out and sign the petition. You may be asked to fill out a short intake form for the judge to review that says who the respondent is and explains the reasons for the petition. Once the petition has been filed, it can't be withdrawn without the court’s permission.

Next steps for File a Section 35 petition

  1. Speak to the judge

    You’ll speak with the judge in court and be asked to explain the reasons for requesting the petition. After hearing the petition, the judge will decide whether to have the respondent brought into court by either a summons or a warrant of apprehension.

    • Warrant of apprehension — If the judge issues a warrant of apprehension, the warrant is sent to the local police, who will try to apprehend the respondent at the address you give them. The police will arrest the respondent and bring them to the courthouse during court hours, between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. By law, the police can only arrest the respondent when court is open, not at night or on weekends. The warrant of apprehension may be good for up to 5 business days. When a warrant is issued and the respondent is arrested, they will be handcuffed, taken to court, and put in a holding cell to wait for a hearing.
    • Summons — If the judge issues a summons, the court will send a notice of a hearing date by mail to the respondent.
  2. The evaluation

    Once the respondent is before the court, the court will provide a lawyer. An attorney is assigned to represent the respondent, not the petitioner. The attorney represents the rights, wishes, and intentions of the respondent. 

    The court will also arrange for a psychologist or clinician to examine the respondent. The court clinician will interview the respondent and the petitioner, and may contact the respondent’s substance abuse or mental health treatment providers or programs to get more information that will help the court decide whether or not to commit the respondent.

  3. The hearing

    The court will conduct a hearing where the clinician will testify. The petitioner and the respondent will both have an opportunity to present evidence and be heard.
    The court can order commitment only if it finds that:

    1. The respondent is a person with an alcohol and/or substance use disorder, AND
    2. There is a likelihood of serious harm as a result of the disorder.

    If the judge decides that there isn’t enough evidence to meet the legal standard for an alcohol and/or substance use disorder, or likelihood of serious harm, the petition is denied and the respondent is released.

    If the judge decides to commit the respondent, the court will hold the respondent until the Sheriff’s Department transports them to the treatment facility. The court can't commit to a private facility, and they can’t force an insurance company to pay for treatment. The petitioner and the respondent don’t have a choice about where the respondent receives treatment. There are several public detoxification/treatment facilities in Massachusetts where the court can commit someone under Section 35. The treatment facilities are run by either the Department of Public Health (DPH) or the Department of Correction (DOC). Although the law allows for someone to be committed  for up to 90 days, the commitment period is usually much shorter.

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