Protection from Abuse Orders in Pennsylvania
A Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) is serious. Similar to restraining orders in other jurisdictions, PFAs will be issued in Pennsylvania when an individual claims to be a victim of domestic violence. While domestic abuse isn't a matter to take lightly, PFAs are issued in emergency situations, and therefore the judge ordering the PFA may not always have all of the facts. This “better safe than sorry” expediency may mean that the defendant didn't commit the acts as claimed by the plaintiff or that they aren't the kind of person PFAs are intended to protect against.
A domestic relationship is required in PFA action, meaning that the plaintiff and the defendant must be:
- Family members
- Household members
- Parents of the same child
- Current or former sexual partners
- Current or former spouses
In addition to the relationship requirement, Pennsylvania also defines the type of conduct that can result in a PFA. Those who seek out a PFA against someone they have a domestic relationship with must do so on the basis of domestic violence.
For purposes of a PFA, domestic violence in Pennsylvania includes but is not limited to:
- Physical abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Rape or forced, unwanted sex acts
- Threatening children
By nature, PFAs are a family matter, and it takes no stretch of the imagination to understand how high tensions can run in familial situations. Sometimes accusations are made out of spite rather than fact. Sometimes a violent situation did happen, but it was in response to another's violence. Other times, an act of domestic violence may have, in fact, occurred, but it was the result of an extenuating circumstance. That's not to excuse the behavior, but those who face addiction issues or mental health issues are often able to find help later on, and therefore quash the need for an ongoing PFA restriction. The bottom line is, PFAs are issued quickly, as a way to protect an individual from violence without delay. The judge doesn't have time to review all of the facts and won't even hear the defendant's side of the story in the first phases of the PFA process.
The Three Types of PFAs in Pennsylvania
The effects of a PFA vary from case to case, but primarily PFAs prevent the defendant from having contact or from being in proximity to the plaintiff. This sounds simple enough, but these restrictions can come with severe, long-term consequences. There are variations of PFAs in Pennsylvania, and they are designed to restrict the defendant for different lengths of time.
Each PFA-type escalates to a longer restriction period, which results in an increasing impact on a defendant's life.
PFAs are issued against a defendant in the following sequence:
- Emergency PFA Order: Lasts until the next business day
- Ex Parte Temporary PFA Order: Lasts for 10 days
- Final PFA Order: Lasts up to 36 months and can be extended
An emergency PFA is granted by an on-call judge and is designed to give a victim protection until the court opens the next day when an ex parte temporary PFA can be requested. Ex parte temporary PFAs will be issued when a judge has a chance to ascertain whether the victim, or the victim's minor children, are in danger. It's important to note that the defendant will not be notified in an ex parte proceeding and, accordingly, won't have an opportunity to state their side of the story until the final hearing. A final PFA will be issued only after a full hearing, but the consequences can be severe, and final PFA restrictions may remain in place for up to 3 years and be further extended as the judge finds necessary.
Pennsylvania PFA Consequences
When a PFA is levied against you, you may be able to anticipate some of the immediate consequences. For example, you'll have to cease contact with the individual who's made claims against you. This may also mean that you're restricted in seeing your minor children. If you cohabitate with your accuser, you'll additionally have to move out of your home. These penalties are severe and can be life-altering all on their own. What you may not anticipate, though, are some of the collateral consequences that can result when a PFA is ordered against you.
Collateral Consequences of Eviction
If you live with your accuser, the PFA order will result in your eviction. A condition of a PFA requires that you not cohabitate with the person or persons the PFA is designed to protect. Moving, even under the best of circumstances, is a difficult chore, but when you're forced out of your house involuntarily, moving is a nightmare.
When you're evicted due to a PFA, you'll have to find a new place to live, and if you plan on signing a new lease, the recent eviction on your rental record can cause unforeseen complications. Landlords are hesitant to rent to someone with an eviction history. In addition to an eviction history, PFAs can show up on a background check, which many landlords will be reluctant to overlook. This eviction record doesn't go away when the PFA is lifted, and it will be a blemish on your rental history for the rest of your life.
You could also find yourself in financial hot water if, for example, the bills at the residence you were evicted from remain in your name, but are now the responsibility of your accuser to pay. If they miss payments, it could negatively impact your credit.
Additionally, the rush of the order to vacate your home means you won't have time to take care of some of the traditional tasks associated with moving. For example, you need to have your mail forwarded and update your mailing address with anyone sending you important paperwork. What happens if you miss that unexpected letter from the IRS? These inconveniences can easily snowball during a time when you're already extremely stressed.
Collateral Consequences of Custody Loss
Losing custody of your minor children is a devastating blow. Even short periods of time without contact with your children can prove to have severe emotional consequences for not just you but for your kids as well. Childhood trauma is a mental health topic that's recently become better understood and appreciated. The trauma of a child experiencing a forced separation with their parent may lead to PTSD that manifests as anxiety, behavioral problems, and even addiction issues as they grow older.
While Pennsylvania judges are charged with making decisions that are in the best interest of minor children, they sometimes make mistakes, or aren't presented with all of the facts, and the children end up in situations that don't best serve them. In a worst-case scenario, this means your accuser may be unfit to serve as the custodial parent, yet they are given full custody anyway.
Adoption Setbacks after PFA Orders
At a time in your life when you're struggling through an issue involving domestic violence accusations, you're probably not thinking about what your future may hold in another 5 or 10 years. It's hard to think that far ahead, but people who've overcome even severe struggles often find they can rebuild wholesome relationships or move on and find new love altogether.
You may want to build a family together, and if you plan to consider adoption, your old PFA situation will certainly appear on a background check during the adoption process. Notably, PFAs that are dismissed or successfully appealed will be easier to explain than final PFA orders that remained in full effect for the entire 36 months.
This example is a good illustration of why you should fight a PFA order even when it doesn't severely impact your life at present. You can't know the future, and you don't want an incident that happened years ago to be the reason you can't later move forward with a happy life. You should contact a PA attorney who handles PFA cases if you have any questions. Joseph D. Lento can help you understand the best route to ensuring PFAs issued against you have as little negative impact on your future as possible.
Employment Issues as a Collateral Consequence
A number of issues relating to job security may arise if you're saddled with a PFA. For starters, many individuals will face the threat of losing their professional license if a PFA shows up in a background check, or their licensing board gets notification of the civil action. For some professions, you may be required to disclose any activity resulting in a PFA, and your failure to do so could result in additional disciplinary actions.
The presence of a PFA on your court record may also pose problems when you apply for a new job. While a PFA action isn't a criminal matter, it will appear in your civil court record, and negative issues on a background check may bar you from even getting an interview, where you'd be able to add context to the situation.
Another serious issue comes up when your accuser is also a colleague. Since you're prohibited from physical contact, you may be barred from entering your own workplace, or having contact with your accuser, even through third parties. Accordingly, if your job performance is directly tied to your need to communicate with the person who filed the PFA against you, you will be facing serious logistics questions that your superiors won't appreciate.
PFAs Can Impact Your Education
A lot of us make mistakes when we're in our late teens and early 20's. During this period, many people seek out higher education opportunities and graduate degrees. They also meet new people and sometimes fall in or out of love. Romance, when you're younger, doesn't usually go as planned, but sometimes it can be severely impacted by the stresses of other obligations. When relationships go south, emotions become heated—and disagreements follow.
If you're a college student who's been accused of domestic violence, and is now facing a PFA against you, you need to contact an attorney right away. You could be suspended from your classes or worse. In addition to the consequences a PFA carries, your school isn't going to look the other way, and the money and time you've put into obtaining a degree or graduate degree may be thrown down the drain without the help of a Pennsylvania defense attorney.
Unanticipated Financial Impacts of PFAs
There are, of course, predictable costs when you're facing the threat of a permanent PFA order. There will be court costs and the expenses associated with your legal defense. Importantly, of all the expenses, those associated with hiring a competent Pennsylvania PFA defense attorney will be the most important investment you make during the entire process. In addition to protecting your reputation, competent legal representation will no doubt save you ancillary costs down the line.
What may come as a surprise to you, however, is that you could be required to pay the medical expenses of your accuser, including those associated with mental health therapies. The judge may also require you to reimburse the plaintiff for any loss of earnings or moving expenses the plaintiff claims to have incurred as a result of your actions.
These costs aren't likely to be something you've planned or saved for, and as such, you might find that you're dipping into funds meant for retirement or even your child's college education. This is why the most important step you can take is hiring an attorney who's helped countless others through the same difficulties. A skilled advocate like Joseph D. Lento will fight to ensure you aren't bankrolling unreasonable costs.
Criminal Penalties Resulting from a PFA Violation
While PFA orders are handled in civil court, it's all too common for someone subject to a PFA to find themselves in criminal court. This is because violations of PFAs are a criminal act. If having a civil court record doesn't create enough complication, having a criminal record will.
If you violate a PFA by making contact with the plaintiff in any capacity prohibited by the order, your accuser simply has to dial 911, and you'll be arrested. You may think that you'll be able to easily comply with the order, but things pop up that are hard to anticipate. For example, what if you have an urgent need for items still contained in the home you shared with your accuser? You may think you can just swing by, but that would in fact, be violative of the order. One minute, you're just grabbing your running shoes, and the next, you're in jail.
When working to appeal your PFA, or have it overturned, violations of the order will work against you. A judge will be less inclined to find in your favor if you've been charged with violating the existing PFA. This is why it's critically important that you adhere to the restrictions in the PFA even when you think they are overbearing. If you have questions about what you can and can't do, you should contact an attorney for guidance.
Protective Order Stresses in General
The stresses of being served with a PFA order are significant and not to be taken lightly. The effects of stress on your physical and emotional wellbeing are better understood these days. Stress can can lead to a weakened immune system, greater risk for heart attack, high blood pressure, and depression, just to name a few. Stress will also impact your ability to function at work and in your daily life. You may find yourself unable to perform your day-to-day activities, and your mental health may begin to spiral.
Even some of the recreational activities you normally participate in to relieve stress may be unavailable to you if you're subject to a PFA in Pennsylvania. If you and your accuser go to the same gym, you may be barred from entering the premises. If you like to relieve stress at the shooting range, the PFA may specifically prohibit you from owning or obtaining firearms. If you and your accuser both enjoy frequenting the same public spaces, such as movie theaters or parks, then you may also have to say goodbye to those activities as well.
It's also important to note that you won't find relief from your PFA if you travel across state lines, as all states share reciprocity in the handling of PFA orders. So, if you have a vacation home with the plaintiff, or you always enjoy visiting certain locations during the summer months, these plans will also have to be altered.
The bottom line is that, while a protection from abuse order against you may seem fairly straightforward at first, it can have far-reaching immediate and future impacts. There are specific ways to go about mitigating those impacts, however, and a competent attorney will guide you through this defense process.
The PFA Hearing Process in Pennsylvania
When the emergency PFA and the ex parte PFA are issued, you will not have an opportunity to defend yourself. You will be served with the order after it has been handed down by the judge. As soon as you receive the notice, you need to contact an attorney who can help you present your defense before the final hearing, which takes place only 10 days after the temporary PFA is issued.
During those 10 days, you must also strictly comply with the temporary PFA order, as violating it will not work in your favor during the final hearing. You will have an opportunity to provide evidence of your defense at the final hearing, and your lawyer will work with you to determine what facts best demonstrate your innocence. It's vital you're honest with your attorney, even when the circumstances are unsavory. Joseph D. Lento understands that individuals make mistakes and that people aren't perfect, but that doesn't mean you don't deserve an aggressive defense.
What To Do After Your PFA Hearing
Sometimes the PFA hearing doesn't end with the results you hoped for, but an experienced attorney knows that you still have options. You can and should fight to clear your name because, as mentioned earlier, being able to demonstrate that a PFA order against you was successfully appealed is often important context later in your life when you're seeking employment, housing, and so on.
The process for appealing a final PFA is wrought with important timelines and procedural rules. For example, your attorney can file a motion for reconsideration, but it must be made within 10 days of the final hearing and must clearly assert that the judge was mistaken in his or her decision during the final hearing. Additionally, you can seek to appeal the final order. Again, this is a time-sensitive action, and the appeal must be filed within 30 days of the final hearing.
Hiring an Experienced Pennsylvania Defense Attorney
When you're served with a PFA in Pennsylvania, you probably don't know what to do next. You need to do two things right away. You need to comply with the temporary PFA order, and you need to contact an experienced attorney. Complying with the order may not be easy or even clear. An attorney will help you understand the parameters of the restrictions against you, and will also help you begin mounting your defense.
To successfully mitigate the accusations against you, you may need to find witnesses and comb through texts, emails, and social media to prove that the allegations against you have been misrepresented. It's a lot to do when you're under the stress of the PFA order, but Joseph D. Lento won't leave you out in the cold to figure it out on your own.
The Lento Law Firm has helped countless others in similar situations overcome or mitigate the impacts of PFA orders issued against them. While each case is unique and deserves a skillfully tailored defense, attorney Joseph D. Lento knows through experience what to expect and how to react. To learn how the Lento Law Firm can help you, call 888-535-3686 right away.