Competency is the ability and capacity to accept a decision or make a decision. Individuals are assumed to be competent unless proven otherwise. Only a court of law can determine if a person is incompetent. In civil competencies, an individual must have the capacity to make an informed and rational decision given the relevant facts in a given situation.
Competency capacity indicates that the individual might not be competent initially but the person is capable of becoming competent-they can be educated, and then evaluated in a forensic mental health exam by a forensic expert. The information from the mental health exam can be sent to the court in the form of a report or can result in direct testimony to the court from the mental health expert.
With increasing frequency, competencies to manage someone’s own financial and health care affairs, manage their own legal affairs, and enter into a contract such as a will, are increasingly questioned and litigated. There are also other civil competencies that can be litigated
The civil courts are involved in contested civil competencies. If a case reaches the courts, it is usually because one party opines that the decision of another was incompetent and it has adversely affected the first party. A forensic mental health evaluation to assess competency in a given situation is then either ordered by the court or obtained directly by either party to assist the court in its competency decision. The civil courts decide whether an individual is incompetent.
Forensic psychiatrists have unique training and experience as expert witnesses in civil settings in performing forensic mental health evaluations. These evaluations assist the courts in their determinations of different civil competencies.