It is common to learn that acts of abuse and violence frequently occur between people who know each other. If people are family members or are in a domestic relationship, then it is important to monitor for potential violence. If there is alleged abuse or violence in a family or domestic relationship, then the alleged victim can seek a court protective order known as a protection from abuse order. These orders came into effect when the Protection from Abuse Act was passed in Pennsylvania in 1990.
Under this law, if someone claims to be a victim of abuse from a family member or domestic partner, then the court can grant protective orders to restrain the alleged abuser. If you have received a protection from abuse order against you or expect to receive one, then it is important to act quickly as your time is limited. It is important that you speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
What is a Protection from Abuse Order?
A protection from abuse (PFA) order is a protective order granted by a judge to restrain someone's actions due to alleged abuse or sexual assault. A PFA can prohibit contact between an alleged victim of domestic or sexual assault and his/her alleged abuser. If a PFA protective order is granted, then the person named in the order can be taken into custody and criminally charged if he or she violates the order. PFAs are enforced across the state and across the country.
What are the Different Types of Protection from Abuse Orders?
There are two kinds of PFAs in the state of Pennsylvania, temporary PFAs and final PFAs. They are explained as follows:
Temporary Protection from Abuse
A temporary PFA is the first one that a petitioner can seek when asking for the court's protection. To obtain a temporary PFA, the petitioner must demonstrate that abuse had taken place and the court's protection is necessary. The abuse alleged must be either physical or sexual abuse and must be described in detail in the petition and to the court. The judge may further inquire about the information written in the petition in court. A petitioner will be required to include information such as dates, location, and how the incident(s) allegedly occurred.
After a petitioner files his or her petition for a temporary PFA, the court will call the petitioner to be heard before the judge in an ex parte hearing. Ex parte hearings are hearings where only one side of the case is present before the judge. In most court hearings, both sides are allowed to be present before a judge to represent their sides. Temporary PFA hearings are specifically ex parte to allow the judge an uninhibited opportunity to listen to the petitioner to determine if protection is needed. In temporary PFA hearings, the judge will only hear from the petitioner. Nobody else is allowed at this hearing. This includes the defendant and his or her attorney!
If the judge believes the petitioner is a victim of abuse and that court protection is necessary, then the judge can order a temporary PFA to be put in place. As a temporary PFA is granted, the judge will set a date to have a full hearing to determine whether a final protection from abuse should be granted to order more permanent protection. The final protection from abuse hearing typically takes place within ten days of the temporary order being granted.
Final Protection from Abuse
Final PFAs are only granted after a formal hearing before the appropriate judge. Final PFA hearings allow both sides to be heard and represented by counsel. Both petitioner and defendant in a final PFA hearing are given the chance to present their cases and admit allowable evidence. Both sides can also call witnesses and testify on their own behalf. For a judge to grant a final PFA, the petitioner has to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that either domestic violence or sexual assault took place. Once the hearing is complete and both sides have had the opportunity to present their cases, the judge will determine if the burden has been met and that the petitioner needs continued protection. If the judge believes that the petitioner needs protection, then a final PFA order can be granted. Final PFA can be valid for up to three years.
What Can a Final Protection of Abuse Order Restrain?
If a final PFA is granted against you, then you can face several restraints and prohibitions, including:
- The requirement to immediately stop any threatening, abusive, or harassing behavior against the petitioner
- The prohibition of living with the petitioner
- The requirement of the defendant to move out
- The potential for child custody to be determined by the judge
- Restraint on ownership of guns
- The prohibition of contact with anyone named in the PFA
The judge can also order the defendant to pay the petitioner for costs incurred due to the alleged abuse. This can include therapy or other rehabilitative costs. If temporary custody is granted by the judge, then a determination on permanent custody can be made at a later hearing.
Who Can Seek a Protection from Abuse Order?
PFAs are not for everybody. To obtain a PFA, the petitioner must be in an intimate or family relationship with the individual named in the PFA. Only people in qualifying relationships can seek a PFA order. Examples of qualifying relationships include:
- Current or past spouses
- Current or past boyfriend or girlfriend
- Current or past sexual partners
- Blood relatives or relatives by marriage that live together
- Same-sex couples
- Parents and their kids
An adult is required to file a PFA on behalf of any petitioner under the age of 18. PFAs cannot be obtained for alleged abuse from friends, acquaintances, classmates, or coworkers. If you have had a PFA filed against you, then it is important that you act quickly.
How Protections from Abuse Are Filed in Luzerne County
If someone lives in Luzerne County and petitions for a protection from abuse order, then their petition must be filed at the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The Court's physical address is:
200 N River Street,
Wilkes-Barre, PA 18711
The Protection from Abuse Office accepts filings from Monday through Friday from 9:00 am – 4:00 pm. The staff helps requesters fill out their paperwork during an extensive process at the courthouse. Judges conduct hearings twice a day, every day for the morning and afternoon court dockets. The Protection from Abuse Office can be reached at (570) 826-3032.
Once the petitioner appropriately completes a temporary PFA petition submits it to the court or police station, then the petitioner will be required to appear before a judge for an ex parte hearing. Only the petitioner's side will be heard in this hearing. The judge may have questions about the alleged abuse and the alleged facts before making a determination on a PFA order.
What Happens if Someone Violates a Protection from Abuse Order?
If a judge orders PFA protections, then any violations of these protections are considered contempt of court. If a defendant is alleged to have violated a PFA provision, then the defendant is entitled to a hearing within ten days. If the defendant is found guilty of the violation, then he or she can be sent to jail for up to six months and can be fined by the court up to $1,000. A PFA can also result in a bond violation in any separate but concurrent criminal case.
What to Do If Facing a Protection from Abuse Petition
If you have been served with a temporary PFA or are facing potential PFA proceedings, then it is important to speak to an experienced attorney right away. You have a limited time to prepare for your final PFA hearing, in most cases ten days. If the judge grants the PFA against you, then it can be valid for up to three years. This three-year period can be renewed at a later court date. Make sure you present your best possible case at the beginning to avoid the restrictions of a PFA. If you have legal questions, then give us a call at the Lento Law Firm so we can help!
Contact the Lento Law Firm Today
If you have questions about how to obtain a protection from abuse order in Luzerne County, then it is important that you consult with an experienced attorney. It is important to know how a protection from abuse order can affect your life. The attorneys at the Lento Law Firm have the experience and knowledge that you need to help put you in the best position. To learn why attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team are the right choice to help you, call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.