Earlier today, I received a comment on the original post from a family law attorney, and I think the comment is worth highlighting. Since it is written from the perspective of an attorney advocating on behalf of a family (as contrasted with advocacy for an individual hoarder), I expect that some members of the hoarding/therapy communities will disagree strongly with some of the advice. I'm comfortable with that. The vast majority of discussions about hoarders seem to focus on the hoarders themselves, while largely ignoring the impact of hoarding on the rest of the family.
Since I am not a lawyer, I won't comment on the legal issues raised by the attorney, but I will comment briefly on the moral/practical issues. In cases where children are involved, the hoarding is severe, and the family wants to give intervention a try before moving out, it can be important to have clear, well-communicated and documented objectives for improving the conditions under which the children are living. It is essential to make progress towards achieving those improved conditions with a minimum of delay. When dealing with a hoarding situation, it is very common for time to slip away, for weeks to stretch into months and years, and for a childhood to be lost. A parent's first obligation is to the children, and my commenter has laid out the steps for a fast, firm intervention as a last resort before breaking up a marriage or someone moving out of the family home.
It may be a painful approach for everyone, especially the hoarder, but doing nothing or using the "go slow" approach that seems to be favored by many hoarders' therapists can be even more painful and damaging to the rest of the family, especially to the children.
Please feel free to add your comments to the original post or to this post. For your convenience, I've quoted the attorney's full comment below.
I am a family law attorney. My advise [sic] is to:I'd like to thank the anonymous attorney for making a very thought-provoking comment! I also suggest that anyone who is considering an intervention strategy should consult with both a therapist and an attorney, as everyone's situation can be different, and laws can vary widely from one community to another.
January 13, 2013 9:58:00 AM EST
- Talk to the children and find out how the hoard has affected them. Be proactive and don't wait for them to come to you because they may think you have given up.
- Schedule family counseling with a therapist.
- Write a letter to your wife about the hoard. Be very descriptive of your past efforts to clean-up as well as the negative effects on the children. Inform her about the date for family counseling. Tell her the consequences (separation) if she does not participate in counseling AND the clean-up. Give her a timeline and all the help she will need to clean up. Set a clean-up day after you have given her time to clean it up herself (which will never happen). Send the letter to her by email, registered mail (return receipt) and by process server to assure she could say you never say she didn't receive the letter.
- On the scheduled a clean-up day have close family and friends there to help. Pull EVERYTHING outside. Divide everything into piles to: recycle, trash, donate or keep. If she wants to donate something you know is trash, tell her you will donate it then take it to the dump. Choose your battles.
- Record the hoard before her clean-up, after her clean-up, before your scheduled clean-up day and after.
- Stick to it, through the anger, tears, threats, etc. Hold your ground. Clean it up. Keep it clean.
- Set rules for the house. If the rules states no clutter in the living room, don't go to bed with clutter there. Take a picture of it then move it.
- If all fails get a good lawyer and you should get full custody. You can put terms in the custody agreement that the children will not visit the mom over her house unless it is clean. The term "clean" will have to be defined in the agreement.