If a PFA order has been filed against you in Pennsylvania, or if you're worried you are in danger of getting one filed against you, you most likely already know how serious it is.
When a PFA is ordered, the respondent is ordered to stay away from the petitioner for at least three years. What many people may not realize is that a PFA order can actually be extended. The repercussions of that happening could have devastating consequences in your life. Knowing what to do and what not to do in this circumstance is critical. Having an expert on your side to help you with the law surrounding the PFAs can make all the difference in your current situation and in your future.
Understanding a PFA
A PFA order in Pennsylvania, or “protection from abuse” order, is an order signed by a judge that provides civil legal protection for victims of domestic violence from abusers.
Anyone 18 and over or an emancipated minor can file for a PFA order in Pennsylvania. PFA orders can be filed against family members, intimate partners, or dating partners. The list of possible respondents could include an ex-boyfriend or husband, ex-wife or girlfriend, current partner or spouse, an ex with whom the petitioner no longer lives with or never lived with, someone who shares a child with the petitioners.
There are many different types of abuse that could compel someone to file for a PFA. The petitioner may allege that the respondent made them a victim of false imprisonment, caused them bodily injury or serious bodily injury, committed certain acts towards them or hinted at causing certain acts towards them that made them fear for their lives, raped them, subjected them to aggravated indecent assault and many other types of abuse.
Once this order is signed, the abuser is, among other things, ordered to stay away from the victim and to stop abusing them. They may also be told to do things like the following:
- stop the abuse, stalking, harassment, or any threats against the petitioner.
- leave the home and not enter any place that the petitioner is, including schools, workplaces, or the home that they shared.
- relinquish any handguns or weapons.
- enter some sort of rehabilitative program like a battery counseling program.
- pay temporary spousal or child support until a more permanent order can be arranged.
- not to have any communication with the petitioner at all, including via phone call, email, text, social media, letters, or in any other way.
- The judge may use other means at their discretion to help stop the abuse.
The PFA order may be issued right away with a permanent PFA order, but there can also be temporary PFAs or ex parte PFAs issued depending on when the PFA was requested or If the respondent wasn't able to get to court right away.
How long are PFAs in Pennsylvania issued for?
In Pennsylvania, they can last for up to three years if they're final orders. If you've been issued a final PFA order, you will have to follow the rules of that order for up to three years, or whatever lesser period of time was designated by the court. If someone has a PFA order against them that's lasted for longer than three years, it's most likely because it's been extended.
What if you violate the terms of the PFA?
If you're the respondent in a case and a PFA has been ordered against you, you need to follow all of the rules laid out in the order. One of the very last things you'll want to do is violate the terms of a PFA order.
The petitioner has the right to call the police if you violate the order in any way. If you're brought back before the judge, and the judge determines that you did, in fact, violate the order, you could be arrested and sent to jail. You may also be required to pay a fine, and the judge may use their discretion to apply any other penalties. In addition, the petitioner could ask for the courts to extend the PFA, making it last much longer than the initial three years.
Why would a PFA be extended?
The petitioner has the right to ask the court to extend the PFA beyond three years if they believe that you've violated the rules of the existing order.
The judge has the discretion to extend a PFA if they believe that you have continued to abuse the petitioner or you've violated some aspect of the order. They may also extend the order if they believe that you've acted in other ways that indicate that you could continue to be a threat to the victim.
One thing to note is that if you've been arrested for violating an order when the petitioner files for an extension and you're to be released within 90 days of the filing, or if you'd been in jail and were released within the past 90 days, the petitioner doesn't have to provide proof to get the order extended.
Another thing that you need to be aware of is that PFA orders can be extended indefinitely. There is absolutely no limit to the number of PFA order extensions that a court can grant. This is something to note if you're thinking about what you need to do to get your life back on track after an order has been issued.
What Does This Mean for You?
The damage a PFA can do under an original order is bad enough. The damage it can do to your life if it is extended is indescribable. Even though the PFA order is a civil one and not a criminal one, a civil order can still make things difficult. It can shut off all sorts of career and social opportunities for you and create a stigma that could be difficult for you to overcome.
To have an extension of that PFA order can wreak even more havoc. Once a PFA order is extended, the damage done to your life may be impossible for you to ever recover from.
Everyone is entitled to have an attorney by their side so that they can make the best decisions when it comes to PFA orders, whether it's for the initial hearing, the final order, or an extension of an order. If you're going to fight this, you need an attorney to help you.
You need to have someone by your side as you go through the PFA process. The damage to your career and your entire life could be irreversible.
Follow the order to a “T.”
If you are the respondent in a PFA order, you probably have a lot of questions. Hopefully, you would have worked with an expert during the hearing process. PFA orders in Pennsylvania are extremely strict, and violating one could have major consequences in your life. The rules of the PFA order must be followed, or you could face fines or imprisonment.
if you shared a home with the petitioner, you will have to find somewhere else to live. You'll have to figure out a way to find new housing, not an easy thing to do for many people. You'll also have to make sure that you'll follow the rules of the PFA and not contact the petitioner in any way. This order will be heavily enforced by the court, and as mentioned, failure to pay attention to the rules could land you in deep water.
Learning to live with a PFA order means that your friends and family and coworkers may eventually catch wind of what's going on. Depending on the circumstances, this could be extremely embarrassing and, in many cases, career-threatening. While PFA orders are not public, there are some circumstances where you may have to convey that you have a legal order against you. You may not be able to take certain jobs because their location or the type of work they do would violate the terms of the PFA order.
What if you believe that the PFA extension is unfair?
You may be in a situation where you believe that a PFA order is unfair, or you may believe that allegations made against you that prompted the PFA to be extended are untrue. This is where you need to make sure that you have the right representation on your side. An extension of a PFA order can have both long-term and short-term consequences for your life. Dealing with complex legal issues on your own could make your situation even worse. Contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today to find out how he may be able to help.