Pennsylvania PFAs are legal tools designed to protect victims of violence occurring in certain types of relationships. PFAs are similar to restraining orders in other states, and while they start out as temporary orders, they become final once the final hearing is held. A Final PFA can be in place for three years unless they are vacated or appealed.
If you're accused of domestic violence in PA, you need to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney. The stakes are high, and PFAs can dramatically decrease your ability to work, find housing, or pursue better opportunities for yourself and your family.
Who Can Seek a PFA in Pennsylvania
While it might seem fair to assume you can seek a PFA against anyone who's causing you harm, that's not the case. Instead, you need to have a special relationship with the person who's hurting you. These relationships must qualify as domestic relationships, meaning the victim and the abuser must be:
- Current or former spouses
- Current or former domestic partners
- Current or former sexual/intimate partners
- Parents of the same child
- Children of parents
- Blood relatives
The qualifying relationships for a PFA are broad and do include most relationships where emotions and tensions are likely to result in violence and abuse. Importantly, domestic violence isn't just a man-on-woman occurrence, and PFAs can be sought in heterosexual relationships or same-sex relationships.
Circumstances Where PFAs Aren't Allowed
Since victims of domestic violence can only seek a PFA against someone they're in a qualifying domestic relationship with, victims of violence perpetrated by an acquaintance or a stranger will have to be handled in a different manner. For example, if someone you work with assaults you, you will have to pursue a different type of criminal charge against them. The PFA will be available when your spouse assaults you. Under this familial circumstance, you can seek an emergency PFA, which is administered through family court.
You might be skeptical of this rationale; after all, shouldn't you be able to seek a PFA against anyone you're worried will cause you harm? To answer this question, think about the purpose of a PFA. Its primary purpose is to separate the victim and the abuser. This separation doesn't need to occur unless the parties live together or they have had other intimate access to one another. It's the special relationship between the victim and the abuser that necessitates the PFA to begin with.
There is one exception to the rules discussed above. While it's true a parent can seek a PFA against their child, they cannot seek the PFA if the child is under the age of 18. There are scenarios where an almost 18-year-old may be able to overpower and abuse their parent, but even then, the parent can't seek a PFA against their child.
Why PFAs are Important
As noted by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, it isn't just women who suffer from abuse. In fact, over 10 Million people become victims of domestic violence in the United States annually. Each state has its own tools and resources for curbing domestic violence, and the PFAs are one of Pennsylvania's answers to this ongoing issue.
PFAs serve to separate the victim and the abuser by prohibiting the abuser from being around the person they've harmed. When a PFA is ordered against someone, they will often face the following restrictions and more:
- They can't live with the victim.
- They can't contact the victim in any way.
- They must maintain physical distance from the victim.
- They have to relinquish their guns.
- They cannot buy more guns while the PFA is against them.
Under PA's Protection from Abuse Act, the court has broad authority to impose any rule that will serve to protect the victim from more abuse. This authority can also impact custody arrangements when minor children are involved.
What Constitutes Abuse for Final PFAs?
Those seeking PFAs will need to testify that they were abused. Often, victims of domestic abuse don't realize what qualifies as abuse for purposes of the Protection from Abuse Act. Obviously, physical violence constitutes domestic abuse. This type of violence often leaves bruising, contusions, broken bones, and worse. It's more easily detectable and easier to prove. Physical violence isn't the only type of abuse that can trigger a final PFA order, though.
In addition to physical violence, domestic abuse includes:
- Verbal abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Abuse of Elders
Verbal and emotional abuse occurs when the abuser uses a psychological approach to their abuse. Instead of hitting, these individuals yell and threaten victims. They may also criticize and shame their victims. Stealing is also a form of abuse and is often seen when adult children take resources from their aging parents.
Understanding the PFA Process
When a domestic violence victim first seeks a PFA, they'll file a petition at the county courthouse. The abuser doesn't need to be there, and so long as the judge finds enough evidence present, a temporary PFA will be ordered.
The temporary PFA will be in place until a final hearing can be held within two weeks. The accused will have a chance to defend themselves at this final hearing, but if the judge doesn't see any justification for their defense, a Final PFA will be ordered. It's important all parties are represented by attorneys throughout this process.
Speak to a PFA Attorney Today
If you or someone you love is dealing with a PFA, you need to speak with a PA Criminal Defense Attorney who can help you navigate the complicated and stressful ordeal. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his Family Law Team know how hard this experience is on families, and he and his dedicated Team at the Lento Law Firm can guide you with competence and compassion. To learn more, call 888-535-3685, or contact us online today