Not every petition for a PFA order comes from a good place. These orders, for example, partnered with their accusations of abuse, have the potential to severely limit a person's opportunities later in life. Not only do parties facing PFAs have less access to shared children, but the permanent note on their civil record can make it difficult for them to find work or live a normal life.
PFA defense lawyers can help ex-partners, family members, and loved ones fight back against wrongful PFA orders. The Lento Law Firm, in particular, strives to connect all Pennsylvania residents fighting for their rights with the representation they need to protect their professional and private reputations.
Breaking Down a PFA
“PFA” stands for “Protection from Abuse.” A PFA is an order provided by a county court to alleged victims of domestic violence and abuse. Individuals who have allegedly suffered domestic violence at the hands of a partner, family member, or someone sharing their home have the right to file for a PFA if they feel they need protection.
The state of Pennsylvania can issue three kinds of PFAs. These include:
- Emergency PFAs – judges who believe that the petitioner is in immediate danger can grant a no-contact emergency PFA lasting no more than 24 hours.
- Temporary PFAs – temporary PFAs in Pennsylvania last for no more than ten business days. Judges do not require the defense to be present at a temporary PFA hearing. Instead, they will rely on the testimony of the plaintiff only. Parties who have temporary PFAs issued against them may also be ordered to submit all firearms and other dangerous materials to local law enforcement.
- Final PFAs – judges can only issue final PFAs after a hearing process at which both the petitioner and the accused are present. Petitioners who fail to present proof of abuse will have their petitions dismissed. If the court believes that the petitioner is in danger, however, it may issue a PFA Order requiring no contact between the involved parties and any children for up to three years.
It's worth noting that PFAs are civil documents. This means that any parties against whom a PFA can be issued will have notes made on their civil record but not their criminal one. If a defendant is accused of violating a PFA (temporary or final), however, the defendant can be charged with criminal contempt of the PFA and this is a criminal charge.
Helping a Friend Through a PFA Hearing
Contending with a PFA is a nasty ordeal. These documents, as mentioned, eliminate one's opportunity to communicate with another party. If PFA hearings involve children or other loved ones, the thought of going without contacting those people for years at a time can be devastating.
Just as the plaintiff can seek out legal counsel, so can all parties against whom PFAs are issued. An experienced defense attorney can help accused parties understand their rights in a PFA hearing and can bring together a case to fight for the document's dismissal.
Watching a friend or child go through a PFA hearing can be almost as difficult as being the subject of one. Luckily, friends and family members related to someone going through a PFA hearing can help their loved one address the situation as best as possible. Some of the best ways to support someone going through a PFA hearing include:
Taking Care of the Little Things
PFAs are not just court documents. They are heralds of a long and emotionally trying process. The defendant in a PFA hearing may be taken aback and threatened by the sudden risk of losing people they care about in their life. In turn, that person may have a more difficult time seeing to their day-to-day responsibilities.
One of the best ways to support someone going through a PFA hearing is to take care of the little things for them. Help them determine what to wear to their hearing. Make sure they have access to sound legal counsel. Give them the opportunity to blow off some steam. Creating a support system for the defendant allows that person to focus on the fight ahead instead of their potential losses.
Attending a Hearing
If a friend's PFA hearing is open to the public, determine whether or not it is appropriate to attend. The defendant may appreciate knowing that there is someone who has their back listening to their debate.
Serving as a Witness
In some PFA cases, a judge may want the defendant to call forward friends and family members to discuss the behaviors of all parties involved in the case. If asked, take the opportunity to serve as a witness on the defense's behalf. Witnesses may have the chance to provide important testimony regarding the allegations and to elaborate on evidence brought forward by both the defense and the prosecution. Not only, then, do witnesses have a chance to support their friends, but they can also fight on that friend's behalf.
Helping a Child Understand a PFA Hearing
PFAs have the power to break families apart. Children can easily get caught in a PFA's crossfire, especially if the prosecution wants to retool a previously agreed-upon custody arrangement.
Explaining a PFA to a child is never easy. However, there are steps that a child's community can take to ensure that a child goes through a PFA hearing as unscathed as possible.
To start, any party issued a PFA must abide by that PFA's no-contact policy. Friends and family members not impacted by the PFA, however, can step in and ensure that any children affected by an emergency or temporary PFA have housing and care. These parties are also encouraged to explain, in the simplest terms, that the two parties involved in the PFA hearing are undergoing a legal process, and that both still love the child involved.
From there, family members and loved ones can ensure that a child remains as up-to-date on the hearing process as is appropriate for their age. If the court believes it appropriate to call the child forward as a witness, loved ones can go with the child to ensure their care and protection.
Post-Hearing: Keeping a Child or Friend Comfortable
The amount of time between a hearing and its conclusion judgment varies from case to case. Interested parties may have the chance to meet with their friends while awaiting judgment, however, and can provide them with necessary emotional support. Some courts may even allow family members or friends to deliver food to the defense while they await the judge's decision.
Parties who cannot join the defense in court can still help their friends from a distance. If the defense has any children impacted by the PFA case, their support system can babysit or try to explain the situation to their children. Similarly, this support system can protect children or other at-risk individuals from any backlash that may result from a judge's final decision.
Helping a Friend Apply for PFA Expungement
A PFA defense lawyer can fight for the expungement or withdrawal of a PFA. If a friend can no longer see their children or loved ones due to a wrongful PFA, there may be circumstances that enable them to take action.
Pennsylvania allows parties targeted by PFAs to have the documents expunged from their record if:
- Neither the defense nor the plaintiff appeared at the final PFA hearing;
- The PFA order never progressed beyond a temporary order;
- The PFA is dismissed after the court's final hearing.
Pennsylvania courts will not automatically expunge a PFA from the defense's record. Instead, the defense must put forward a petition, often with the assistance of a PFA defense lawyer, to clear their record. Expunging a PFA case, even with the consent of the plaintiff, will require a hearing before the court.
In this same vein, individual Pennsylvania counties have their own procedure through which PFAs may be revoked. In most cases, the defense – in tandem with a PFA defense lawyer – must argue that the risk of abuse is no longer present. This would generally require the consent of the plaintiff as the defendant cannot unilaterally seek that a final PFA be dismissed or vacated. The plaintiff's representation regarding a lack of threat must be willful, as the court will deny a petition if it believes that the defense is coercing the other parties involved in the case.
Work With a PFA Defense Lawyer
PFAs have the power to separate families. When wielded inappropriately, they can deny parents the opportunity to watch their children grow up or for individuals the right to form meaningful relationships with their peers.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm knows all about the damage an inexpedient PFA can cause. That's why the Firm opens its doors to all parties looking to fight back against PFAs. Individuals who have had PFAs issued against them can reach out to the Lento Law Firm to learn more about their rights. Together with attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team, these parties can go to court and fight for a PFA's dismissal.
Don't let a PFA ruin a friend or child's life. To help a loved one schedule a PFA defense consultation with the Lento Law Firm, call 888-535-3686 or fill out the digital form on the Firm's website.