Being served with a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) in Pennsylvania can be jarring and disruptive to anyone--but it can be especially damaging to licensed professionals. If you're served with a PFA, not only could you be barred from having contact with your spouse, domestic partner, or children, forced to leave your home, etc., but if you're a licensed marriage and family therapist, that PFA could lead to trouble with the State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors. In the worst-case scenario, it could even cost you your license.
The career of a marriage and family therapist depends on the public trust--and a PFA can be seen as a violation of that trust. You need to be as proactive as possible to reduce the chances that your Protection from Abuse Order could trigger an investigation by the licensing board. The best way to do that is to hire an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney to help you contest the PFA. The Lento Law Firm has compiled the following information so you can understand what's at stake and take steps to protect your license.
Protection From Abuse Orders in Pennsylvania
A Protection from Abuse Order is a civil court order which prohibits the respondent (or defendant) from interfacing with or contacting the petitioner (or plaintiff). This protective order is often sought in instances of alleged domestic violence or other cases involving abuse, harassment, stalking, etc. The order forbids you from contact with your spouse, partner, or other family member who filed the petition, and in many cases, it may affect your custody rights, as well.
The PFA Process In Pennsylvania
The first step for most alleged victims is to request a temporary PFA, which goes into effect immediately and lasts for up to 10 days until a final hearing can be scheduled. The PFA is generally issued by a judge “ex parte,” meaning without your presence or input. You will be allowed to bring an attorney to the final hearing, and you'll be given an opportunity to present your side of the story, including presenting evidence and witnesses. The judge will make a decision at the end of the hearing whether to dismiss the temporary PFA or convert it into a final PFA. The PFA will be in effect for a maximum of 3 years if it is finalized.
What Happens if You Violate the PFA
You could face criminal contempt charges and possible jail time if you violate the PFA conditions in any way. This conviction would also generate a criminal record which could trigger an investigation by the licensing board. To ensure you are following all conditions, make sure you have read the PFA carefully.
How Could a PFA Jeopardize Your License as a Marriage and Family Therapist?
A PFA could have a significant impact on your ability to practice therapy in Pennsylvania. Although a PFA generates no criminal record, its existence suggests that you might have committed acts of misconduct or crimes of moral turpitude. This can easily result in disciplinary action by the state licensing board. Some possible ways a PFA could trigger a license investigation:
- A colleague, patient, or any other person who is aware of the PFA can file a complaint with the State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists, and Professional Counselors.
- If you're convicted of contempt for violating the PFA, the resulting criminal record may be reported to the licensing board.
- The board pulls your court records, possibly as part of a different investigation, and sees the record of the PFA.
If the board becomes aware of the PFA against you and they feel it is a violation of public trust, they can initiate an investigation. If they believe the circumstances warrant discipline, they may request a formal hearing where they will decide whether to impose disciplinary actions against you, including suspending or revoking your license.
If the Board Decides to Discipline Me, Will I Lose My License as a Marriage and Family Therapist?
Not necessarily. The board will weigh all circumstances in deciding on a penalty, and they opt not to revoke your license in favor of imposing milder penalties such as license restrictions, fines, mandated counseling, formal reprimand, etc. However, bear in mind that any disciplinary action could still hurt your career because it will become a matter of public record. Any patients, clients, colleagues, or employers can view this information, and it could affect their willingness to work with you.
What Steps Can I Take To Protect My License to Practice After Receiving a PFA?
If you are served with a PFA, there are several things you can do to safeguard your marriage and family therapy practice. An experienced attorney can assist you in determining the best course of action. Your options include
- Contesting the temporary PFA before it is finalized. You and your attorney can do this during the final hearing by presenting evidence that proves the PFA is unnecessary or should not have been issued. If you can keep the temporary PFA from being finalized, it reduces the chances that it will alert the board.
- Appealing the PFA. You can file a Motion to Reconsider and/or formally appeal the decision to the Superior Court, seeking to have the PFA overturned.
- Getting your PFA record expunged. A temporary PFA can be expunged from court records only if it was never finalized or if the petition was withdrawn. It can be erased if a temporary PFA is not finalized or dismissed. A PFA only shows up on criminal records if you are convicted for violating it; however, expungement would remove any mentions of the temporary PFA from public view.
Can My PFA Be Found on a Criminal Background Search?
No. A PFA is a civil action, not a criminal one, so PFAs do not show up in criminal background checks. However, a record of all PFAs may still be found in public court documents, even temporary PFAs that were dismissed or allowed to expire. If the licensing board accesses these records for any reason, it could be a cause for concern.
What Should I Do if My PFA Raises Concerns With the Board About My Marriage and Family Therapist's License?
If the board raises issues or launches an investigation, your best chance for avoiding serious consequences is to hire an attorney who is experienced in professional license defense. An attorney who has handled similar cases in the past can assist you throughout the investigation, offer evidence and arguments to support the conclusion that the PFA has no bearing on your ability to serve as a therapist, and negotiate with the board for leniency on your behalf. This can make a huge difference in the outcome of your case and even save your career.
Joseph D. Lento is a seasoned Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney who also has experience in professional license defense. If you've been served with a PFA, taking quick action now could save your license later.
Call the Lento Law firm at 888-535-3686 to see how we can help.