Goodbye Stigma. Welcome CARE Court!

Mental health is finally losing some of the stigma. With the termination of celebrity Conservatorships like Brittany Spears, California is looking to see how we can provide support and pool together statewide resources to assist those with mental health diagnoses.

On March 3, 2022, Governor Gavin Newsome announced a new branch of the California court system dedicated to getting people with severe mental illness into treatment. This new law was enacted at the start of 2023. This law required the establishment of CARE Court with seven (7) courts to be the initial courts starting in October of 2023 and the reset to join in December of 2024.

CARE Court stands for Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment. The goal of this is to assist those with Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders to prevent incarceration or the necessity of further legal remedies like a Conservatorship. The purpose of CARE Court is to be holistic and comprehensive with support services available. Under CARE Court, there are services to be provided including medical care, housing, and other support services.

We often receive calls from family members seeking help. Their family member is homeless on the street. They have a place to live but are not taking their medications. They have a mental illness.

Before the enactment of CARE Court private filers were barred and reliant on the office of the Public Guardian to initiate proceedings to protect their loved ones. Often watching as they deteriorate with the refusal to accept any help. Being too far gone to recognize they need assistance but not far enough where the Public Guardian would get involved.

Now, with the enactment of CARE Court, individual filers can bring up their concerns for their loved ones to the Court and plead for help. Of note, if an individual files more than one (1) Petition under the CARE Act, they may be deemed by the Court to be a vexatious litigant required to seek additional authority from the Court for any future filings in any type of matter.

Individuals (known as Petitioners) can file in the County where the Respondent (the person over whom you are seeking the CARE Court get involved) resides, is found, or has criminal/civil action proceedings against them at the time of filing.

Overall, there are two main forms for a Petitioner to be aware of which are the Judicial Council forms of CARE-100 which is the Petition, and CARE 101 as an accompanying medical form. However, there are cases where this CARE-101 may not always be needed and Petitioners can file with evidence submitted pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 5975(d)(2). Overall these requirements are stringent in requiring medical input for the Court to be able to make any determination.

Once an initial Petition is filed, one of two things may happen. Either the Court Dismisses the Petition or the Court will order the County of Behavioral Health to prepare a report at which time both Petitioner and Respondent are notified.

Suppose a report is ordered, and the County of Behavioral Health statement reflects the same information or necessity for CARE Court involvement as found in the initial filing by the Petitioner. In that case, the Court will set an initial appearance date. At that hearing, the Petitioner must appear otherwise the case is dismissed. Once they appear, the Court will then substitute in County of Behavioral Health as the Petitioner moving forward.

While all filings are confidential, the person over whom CARE Court is being sought may eventually see the Petition and reports if the Court does not dismiss the initial filing.

Surprisingly, there is no requirement for a private filer to serve notice on a Respondent. This is likely due to the transient nature of those with mental health. However, if the County of Behavioral Health is Ordered to provide a report, then that agency is required to provide personal service to the Respondent.

While this new law is slowly being rolled out, soon families will be able to seek the Court to intervene and work together to provide critial services for loved ones.

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