If you're a resident of Pennsylvania who's been hit with a restraining order, you may be wondering, "What's next?" Restraining orders, also known in Pennsylvania as "protection from abuse" (PFA) orders, are court-issued documents that require an individual to stay away from the person who requested the order, as well as to refrain from any contact or communication with them. It's important to know exactly what this order means to you and what your next steps should be.
What is a Protection from Abuse Order?
A restraining order or protection from abuse order is a court-issued document that limits the contact or interaction of one person (the defendant) with another (the plaintiff). The purpose of a PFA order is to protect the plaintiff from any potential harm or violence from the defendant. To obtain a PFA order, the plaintiff, or petitioner, must demonstrate that they are in a qualifying relationship with the defendant and that an act of domestic violence occurred.
It's important to note that PFA orders are civil matters, but violating them can result in criminal charges. Additionally, because they are court orders, they remain in effect until the court lifts them or a specified amount of time has passed. A PFA can remain in effect for up to three years, and the petitioner can ask the court to renew it before it expires. It's essential to follow the terms of the order, even if you reconcile with the petitioner, as it remains in effect until it expires or the court lifts the order.
What Types of Restraining Orders Can Pennsylvania Residents Get?
In Pennsylvania, there are three main types of protection orders that are designed to help protect individuals from harm or abuse: Protection From Abuse (PFA) Orders, Sexually Violent Predator (SVP) Orders, and Protection From Intimidation (PFI) Orders.
Protection From Abuse (PFA) Orders:
A Protection From Abuse (PFA) Order is a legal order that is designed to protect individuals who have experienced domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking from a family or household member or intimate partner.
Sexually Violent Predator (SVP) Orders:
A Sexually Violent Predator (SVP) Order is a legal order that is designed to protect victims of sexual violence from further intimidation or abuse by the perpetrator, even in cases where the state did not file criminal charges.
Protection From Intimidation (PFI) Orders:
A Protection From Intimidation (PFI) Order is a legal order that is designed to protect individuals from harassment or stalking by someone who is not a family or household member.
Grounds for Getting a PFA Order in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, a PFA can be issued to protect an individual who has experienced domestic violence. To obtain a PFA order, the petitioner must demonstrate that they have been the victim of abuse or the threat of abuse. This can include physical violence, sexual violence, threats of violence, harassment, or stalking. The petitioner must also show that they are in imminent danger of further abuse if the PFA order is not granted.
In addition to the grounds for a PFA order, as mentioned above, the petitioner must also demonstrate that they have a qualifying relationship with the abuser. Qualifying relationships include current or former spouses, current or former intimate partners, family members, individuals who share a household or have shared a household, individuals who have a child together, or individuals who are in a dating relationship.
If the petitioner meets the above criteria, they can file a petition for a temporary PFA order at their local courthouse. The court will then hold a hearing to determine whether a PFA order is necessary. If the court grants a PFA order, it will outline the protections and restrictions that the abuser must follow. The petitioner must provide a copy of the PFA order to law enforcement officials, who will be responsible for enforcing the order.
Temporary PFA and Final PFA Order Process in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, there are two types of restraining orders that can be ordered: temporary protection from abuse orders and final protection from abuse orders. Temporary and final PFAs differ in terms of their duration and the legal process involved in obtaining them.
Temporary PFA Orders:
A temporary PFA is a temporary court order that offers protection to a victim of abuse or harassment. The order can be obtained without the defendant being present and typically lasts for up to 10 days. In Pennsylvania, a petitioner can obtain a temporary PFA by filing a petition with the court that outlines specific allegations of abuse or threats of abuse. The hearing will take place ex parte, meaning only the petitioner is present. The defendant won't receive notice of the hearing and doesn't have the right to attend. At the hearing, the victim will present evidence to support their claims of danger, and if the judge agrees, the court will issue a temporary PFA until holding a final hearing to decide if the judge should issue a final PFA. The order will prohibit the defendant from contacting the victim or engaging in any behavior that may pose a threat.
Final PFA Orders:
A final PFA order is a more permanent form of protection than a temporary PFA. It can only be issued after the court holds a hearing with notice to the defendant. The judge can issue a final PFA for up to three years, and the court may renew it if the victim can demonstrate that they are still in danger.
In Pennsylvania, the process for obtaining a PFA begins with the filing of a petition with the court. The petition must include specific allegations of abuse or threats of abuse. The court will then schedule a hearing to determine if it should issue a final PFA. At the hearing, both the victim and the defendant will have the opportunity to present evidence and testimony. The judge will make a decision based on the evidence presented, and if the judge determines that the victim has met their burden of proof, they will issue a final PFA.
Once the court issues a final PFA, the defendant may not have any contact with the victim. The order may also require the defendant to attend counseling or anger management classes and to pay financial support to the victim. If the defendant violates the terms of the PFA, it can become a criminal matter, and they may be subject to fines or imprisonment.
Examples of Restrictions
When you have a PFA order against you in Pennsylvania, you must abide by certain restrictions. These restrictions can vary depending on the specific circumstances of the case and the type of PFA issued, but some common examples include:
- Staying away from the victim's home, workplace, and other locations specified in the order.
- Refraining from contacting the victim in any way, including in person, by phone, text, email, or through social media.
- Surrendering any firearms or other weapons to the authorities if the order includes a provision for such surrender.
- Abiding by any visitation or custody arrangements established by the court if the order involves children.
- Attending counseling or other services as ordered by the court.
- Refraining from committing any further acts of abuse, harassment, or violence against the victim.
- Moving out of a shared residence if the victim is also living there.
- Paying any support ordered by the court.
How to Handle a PFA Order Against You
If someone has obtained a PFA order against you in Pennsylvania, it's important to handle the situation carefully. Here are some steps you can take to deal with the restraining order:
- Read and understand the terms of the PFA order, including any restrictions or provisions that are included.
- Follow the conditions of the PFA order to avoid violating it, which can result in criminal charges of contempt. The order may include provisions such as staying away from the victim's home, workplace, and other locations, refraining from contacting the victim, and surrendering any firearms or weapons if required.
- Consult with an attorney to understand your legal rights and obligations and to ensure that you do not accidentally violate the order. An attorney can help you prepare your defense and represent you in court if necessary.
- If the PFA order is temporary, the court will schedule a hearing to determine whether to issue a final order. Prepare for the hearing by gathering any evidence or witness statements that may support your case, and be prepared to answer questions in court.
- If the court issues a final PFA against you, make sure to abide by its provisions, as violating them can lead to criminal charges. If you disagree with the final order, you can appeal the judge's decision with the help of an attorney.
Reach Out for Legal Help
If you are a resident of Pennsylvania facing a protection from abuse order, it's imperative that you have an experienced attorney on your side.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Team can help you build a strong defense and challenge the issuance of a final PFA, which can have significant long-term consequences for your personal and professional life. They can help you with the following:
- Navigate legal issues: A PFA order can have legal implications for issues such as child custody, visitation rights, and other peripheral legal issues. An attorney can help you understand your rights and obligations in these matters.
- Deal with criminal charges: If you are facing criminal charges for violating a PFA order, an attorney can help you defend against these charges and mitigate the potential penalties.
- Appeal a final restraining order: If a court issues a final PFA order against you, an attorney can help you appeal the decision and potentially have the order lifted.
Reach out to Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm if you've been hit with a protection from abuse order in Pennsylvania. They have years of experience handling all types of restraining orders, and they understand the challenges and complexities of these cases and are dedicated to helping their clients get their lives back on track.
Reach out to the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686, or contact us online. Your future is worth it.