In Bucks County and across Pennsylvania, domestic violence is a serious problem. Pennsylvania lawmakers understand that abuse is unacceptable and passed Protection from Abuse Act in 1990 to remedy the problem. The law created a process for domestic or sexual violence victims to apply for a court order protecting them from their abusers. Under the PFA Act, victims of abuse can apply for a Protection from Abuse (PFA) from the Court of Common Pleas in their county. If issued, this court order prevents an abuser from contacting them or their children. See Pa. Stat. 23 § 6101, et seq. (2018).
Filing a PFA in Bucks County
In Bucks County, you can apply for a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order at the Prothonotary or filing office in the Family Court Division of the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas Doylestown, Pennsylvania.
Bucks County Court of Common Pleas
Prothonotary -Family Court Division
100 N. Main Street
The phone number for the filing office of the Family Court Division is (215) 348-6822.
To obtain a temporary PFA, petitioners must appear before a judge in an ex parte hearing. “Ex parte” means that the defendant will not be present. The court holds ex parte hearings Monday through Friday at 1:30 pm. To have a petition heard the same day, applicants must be in the Prothonotary's office no later than 3 pm on Monday through Thursday or 1:30 pm on Friday. You can obtain the application at the Prothonotary office, but you must have your PFA application complete before the office hours deadline. You will need to provide a statement that includes the time, date, and location of the alleged abuse.
After hours, petitioners should call their local police department and ask which Magisterial District Justice is on-call in their area of Bucks County. The magisterial judge will be able to issue an emergency PFA. The emergency PFA is valid until 4:30 pm on the next business day.
Recipients of a PFA Order in Bucks County
To obtain a PFA in Pennsylvania, the complainant must have an intimate or family relationship with the defendant. These relationships include:
- Spouses, ex-spouses, and couples who have lived as spouses,
- Domestic partners and same-sex couples,
- Parents, siblings, and children,
- People related by blood or marriage, or
- Current or former sexual or intimate partners, including dating relationships.
Petitioners cannot apply for a PFA order against strangers, co-workers, or classmates unless they have a qualifying intimate relationship.
PFA Process in Bucks County
The Bucks County process for obtaining a PFA is similar to the process in most Pennsylvania counties:
- The petitioner applies for a temporary PFA with the court and attends an ex parte hearing.
- The police serve the defendant with a temporary PFA order and a hearing date for the final PFA.
- Both parties participate in the final hearing, where a judge determines whether to issue a final PFA.
Temporary Protection from Abuse Order
An applicant begins the PFA process by filing a “petition” with the Bucks County Family Court filing office. The petition asks the petitioner to state why they need protection and to describe any alleged abuse. The petitioner typically needs to provide specifics such as the time, date, and place where the abuse occurred. The petition will also ask for the remedy the plaintiff would like. The PFA Act also requires that the court provide information to PFA petitioners in English and Spanish.
Once the plaintiff fills out a petition, the judge will read it and then ask the plaintiff some questions. This hearing is an ex parte hearing, meaning the defendant isn't present. If the judge believes protection is needed, they may issue a temporary PFA. This temporary PFA will remain in place until the date of the final PFA hearing, which usually happens within ten days.
Protection from Abuse Order Hearing
A Bucks County Family Court judge will make the final decision about whether to issue a final PFA. Both parties have the right to participate in this hearing. However, if you don't show up, the judge may issue the final PFA against you anyway.
During the hearing, both you and the plaintiff will have the chance to tell your story and introduce evidence or witness testimony. The petitioner has to prove by a “preponderance of the evidence” that domestic violence occurred. This standard means it's more likely than not that the abuse occurred and is a lower standard than “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
You don't have to have an attorney at a final PFA hearing. However, the plaintiff will probably have a lawyer, and this will put you at a disadvantage. The hearing will be formal in open court, and all the parties must follow the court's rules and procedures. Any evidence you introduce must follow the Pennsylvania rules of evidence as well. If you don't have an attorney, you are much less likely to defend yourself at the hearing successfully.
Final Protection from Abuse Order
If the court decides to grant the final PFA, it can remain in place for up to three years. The judge can grant many forms of relief, including orders to:
- Stop threatening, abusing, harassing, or stalking the plaintiff and their children,
- Leave your home or household, even if you own it jointly both or are on the lease or mortgage,
- Keep the plaintiff's new address, or location remain confidential,
- Grant temporary custody of the children to the plaintiff,
- Keep you from contacting the victim, victim's children, or family members,
- Turn over any firearms or other weapons you own,
- Grant “any other appropriate relief” like ordering you to return a pet, car keys, important papers, or other personal property.
Hire an Experienced PFA Attorney in Bucks County
If you're facing a hearing for a PFA in Bucks County, it's important to hire a skilled defense attorney as soon as possible. A final PFA can remain in place for up to three years. This order can affect custody of your children, financial support, and in some cases, your job. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has many years of domestic violence, PFA, and criminal defense experience in Pennsylvania. Give the Lento Law Firm a call at 888-536-3686 or contact them online.