In Pennsylvania and across the U.S., violence in family relationships is a serious problem. As a result, the Pennsylvania legislature passed the Protection from Abuse Act in 1990, creating a process to protect domestic or sexual violence victims from abusers. Under the law, victims of domestic violence can apply for a Protection from Abuse (PFA) court order to prevent an abuser from contacting them or their children. See Pa. Stat. 23 § 6101, et seq. (2018).
Filing a PFA in Chester County
To file a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order in Chester County, the complainant will apply at the Chester County Court of Common Pleas in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Applicants should proceed to Family Court on the fifth floor of the Chester County Judicial Center. The court's physical address is:
Chester County Court of Common Pleas,
201 W. Market St, Suite 5402
West Chester, PA 19380
The Family Court Administrator is Suzie Marker, and her phone number is 610-344-6405. The number for PFAs is 610-344-6405.
The Court of Common Pleas is available for PFA applications from 8:30 am, and the court will hold the last hearing at 3 pm. The process takes approximately two hours for the application and a hearing with a judge. The court hears applications in check-in order, so applicants should arrive as early as possible to ensure they have time for the application process and hearing. The court asks that applicants bring in a one-page statement that includes the time, date, and location of the alleged abuse.
After hours, applicants should call their local police department and ask which Magisterial District Justice is on-call. The District Justice can issue an emergency PFA, which is valid until 4:30 pm on the next day the Family Court is open. For example, if an applicant receives an emergency PFA on Friday evening, it is only valid until 4:30 pm on Monday.
Recipients of a PFA Order in Chester County
To obtain a PFA in Pennsylvania, the complainant must have an intimate or family relationship with the defendant. These relationships include:
- Spouses or ex-spouses,
- Couples who have lived as spouses,
- Domestic partners,
- Same-sex couples,
- People related by blood or marriage, including siblings, or
- Current or former sexual or intimate partners, including dating relationships.
The PFA Act does not cover abuse by a stranger, co-worker, schoolmate, or a roommate that the complainant is not intimately involved with.
PFA Process in Chester County
Across Pennsylvania, most counties have a similar process for obtaining a PFA. In Chester County:
- The complainant will apply for a temporary PFA with the court.
- The police will serve the defendant the temporary PFA order issued by a judge along with a hearing date for the final PFA.
- Both the complainant and the defendant can participate in the final hearing where a judge decides whether to issue a final PFA.
Temporary Protection from Abuse Order
The PFA process usually starts by filling out a “petition” at the Chester County courthouse. The petition will ask the petitioner to explain why they want protection and describe the alleged abuse they suffered. The person applying for the PFA is called the “petitioner” or the “plaintiff.” The PFA petition also asks the petitioner to explain what they want the PFA to do. Typically, employees at the courthouse can help complete PFA petitions. The PFA Act requires that the court provide any assistance offered to PFA petitioners in English and Spanish.
After filling out the petition, a judge will read it ask the plaintiff to answer some questions. This hearing with the judge is ex parte, meaning the defendant won't be present. The judge may grant a temporary PFA order and schedule a date for a final hearing. A temporary PFA order will protect a petitioner and their children until the date of the final hearing, which usually happens within ten business days. Even if the judge does not grant a temporary PFA, the judge will schedule a final PFA hearing.
Protection from Abuse Order Hearing
A judge in the Chester County Family Court will make the final decision concerning a PFA in a hearing with both you and the petitioner present. However, the judge may issue the final PFA without you present if you don't show up. It's essential that you appear in court. Both parties will have the chance to tell their stories and introduce evidence and witnesses during the hearing. The petitioner has to prove that an act of abuse happened by a “preponderance of the evidence.” This standard means it's more likely than not that the abuse occurred.
While you can try to defend a final PFA hearing without an attorney, it's essential to have someone who can advocate on your behalf to the court. This final PFA hearing will be before a judge in open court, and anything you introduce must follow the rules of evidence. Without legal training or an attorney representing you, a PFA hearing is challenging. Moreover, if the plaintiff has an attorney and you do not, you will be at a disadvantage in court.
Final Protection from Abuse Order
If the judge grants the final PFA, it will contain provisions preventing you from approaching or contacting the complainant for up to three years. The petitioner can ask for many forms of relief, including:
- Ordering the abuser to stop threatening, abusing, harassing, or stalking the victim and the victim's children,
- Ordering the abuser to leave the home or household, even if both parties own it or are on the lease,
- Requesting that the victim's new address or location remain confidential,
- Granting temporary custody of the children,
- Prohibiting the abuser from contacting the victim, victim's children, or family members,
- Ordering the abuser to turn over any firearms or other weapons,
- Ordering “any other appropriate relief” like the return of a pet, car keys, important papers, or other personal property.
Hire an Experienced PFA Attorney in Chester County
If the police have served you with a temporary PFA in Chester County, Pennsylvania, you need an experienced PFA lawyer right away. A final PFA can remain in place for up to three years, impacting custody, your finances, and your career. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has unparalleled experience in criminal defense, successfully defending many clients in PFA and domestic violence matters in Pennsylvania. Give the Lento Law Firm a call at 888-536-3686 or contact them online.