Divorce, Custody, and Incompetence
Divorce, child custody proceedings, and adoptions are civil actions. Couples bring divorce proceedings as private civil actions against each other, with the purpose of the proceeding to be the resolution of property and support claims and the custody of the children, if any. These are not purely private actions since all the states require the judge to consider the best interest of the children, which often means that the state social welfare department must review the custody agreements. Many states also specific the nature of the support agreements and whether alimony is available.
The involuntary treatment of the mentally ill, the treatment of minors against their parents’ consent, and the treatment of temporarily incompetent patients without or against consent is done through civil proceedings. These are often initiated by a medical care practitioner who believes the person needs treatment or care and wants the court to intervene. Judges may allow individuals to be treated or hospitalized without their consent, or even against their consent. While it is proper to use involuntary commitment to protect the public from a dangerous individual, the court cannot confine a person as a punishment without giving the person the full rights of criminal proceedings.