A Protection from Abuse (PFA) order is a Pennsylvania civil order that protects victims of domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault. Domestic violence PFAs are typically the most common, and they are sometimes also known as restraining orders or protection orders. The Protection from Abuse Act, a 1990 Pennsylvania law, lists the procedures for obtaining a PFA and delineates court and police policies and the rules and regulations both the alleged abuser and victim must follow through the PFA process. See Pa. Stat. 23 § 6101, et seq. (2018).
The courts and police often use protection from abuse orders to protect victims from crimes like harassment, physical intimidation, stalking, and other threats involving bodily harm committed by a family member or intimate partner. But to obtain a PFA, you must meet the statutory requirements.
Obtaining a Protection from Abuse Order
Protection from Abuse (PFA) orders are only typically available for those with a family or intimate relationship. Qualifying relationships include:
- Current spouse or former spouse,
- Someone who lived with you as a spouse or currently does,
- Your brother or sister,
- Your parent or child,
- Current or former intimate or sexual partners,
- Someone related to you by blood or by marriage,
- Same-sex couples, and
- Someone with whom you have a child in common.
You cannot obtain a PFA for a co-worker, neighbor, classmate, friend, or stranger that doesn't meet the qualifying relationships listed above. An applicant for a PFA must be 18 to file on their own. Otherwise, they need a parent or guardian to file on their behalf.
Grounds for a Protection from Abuse Order
The Pennsylvania legislature created protection from abuse orders to protect current or former intimate partners or family members from domestic violence. So, aside from a qualifying domestic relationship, an applicant for a PFA must also show an act of domestic violence occurred between the parties. In Pennsylvania, qualifying domestic violence can include the following:
- Causing, or attempting to cause, any of the following, whether with or without a deadly weapon:
- Sexual assault
- Bodily injury
- Serious bodily injury
- Statutory sexual assault
- Indecent assault
Acts that can be domestic violence in Pennsylvania include assault, sexual assault, harassment, stalking, kidnapping, burglary, theft, and more. See 23 Pa. Stat. § 6102(a) (2018).
The Protection from Abuse Process
In Pennsylvania, the process to obtain a protection from abuse order is typically about the same:
- The plaintiff obtains a temporary PFA from a judge in an ex parte or emergency hearing.
- The police serve you with the temporary PFA and notice of a hearing for the final PFA.
- The parties have the opportunity to participate in a hearing where the judge determines whether or not to issue the final PFA order.
Temporary Protection from Abuse Order
When the police serve you with a PFA for the first time, it is typically a temporary order. The judge grants this order in an ex parte hearing. You will not receive notice, and you don't have the right to be present for this hearing. If the judge grants a temporary PFA to the plaintiff, it will typically contain restrictions preventing you from approaching or contacting the plaintiff and give notice of a final hearing. The hearing normally takes place within ten days of the temporary PFA.
Protection from Abuse Order Hearing
The hearing for the final PFA takes place before a judge. At the hearing, both parties have the opportunity to testify and tell their side of the story. Both parties can also present evidence and witnesses to the court and cross-examine the other side's witnesses. If you testify, the plaintiff's lawyer will probably cross-examine you, and your attorney will have the chance to cross-examine the plaintiff as well.
Final Protection from Abuse Order
If the judge grants the final PFA, it will contain provisions preventing you from contacting or approaching the plaintiff for up to three years. The order may also remove you from a shared home, determine temporary child custody and support, confiscate any guns or firearms you own, order you to pay financial support, and attend counseling or drug and alcohol counseling.
How Can I Defend Myself From a Protection from Abuse Order?
At the final hearing for the protection from abuse order, the plaintiff must show by a preponderance of the evidence that:
- You have a qualifying domestic relationship and
- An act of domestic violence occurred.
If you have a conviction for an offense that qualifies as domestic violence against the plaintiff, it can be more difficult, but not impossible, to challenge the evidence in court. You will need an experienced criminal defense attorney at your hearing to assist. If the plaintiff simply made allegations of domestic abuse against you, having an attorney will also be important to understand the evidence the court will permit at the hearing and the best options to defend you from the evidence and witnesses presented in court.
While you aren't required to have a hearing for the final PFA, complying with the rules of evidence can be difficult for someone without legal training. Your best option to successfully defend the PFA will be to have a Pennsylvania attorney experienced in protection from abuse orders by your side.
Hire an Experienced Protection from Abuse Attorney in Pennsylvania
If you're facing a final protection from abuse order, it can have serious consequences on your life. You need the guidance of a skilled litigator with experience defending clients from protection from abuse orders. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has unparalleled experience in criminal defense, domestic violence, and PFA defense throughout Pennsylvania. He can help you too. Give the Lento Law Firm a call at 888-536-3686 or contact them online.