Domestic violence is a major problem that can have serious consequences for whole families. To give victims some protection from their abusers, lawmakers in Pennsylvania introduced the Protection from Abuse Act back in 1990.
The Act allows victims to ask for what's called a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order, which prevents the alleged abuser from doing certain things like holding firearms, seeing their children, or even staying at their own home.
Given how severe these consequences can be, you should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately if someone files a PFA order against you. In the meantime, though, it's crucial you understand the basics of how PFA orders work and what happens at a PFA Hearing.
How to File a PFA Order in Lebanon County
You can find the court at:
400 S. 8th Street
Lebanon, PA 17042
The court's opening hours are Monday - Friday, 8:30 am – 4:30 pm. You can call the court on 717-274-2801. If someone wants to file an emergency petition outside these core hours, they should contact local law enforcement for advice.
The petitioner completes an application setting out the facts of their case. The petition can take a few hours to complete. Once the application is filed, petitioners must appear before the judge to explain why they want protection from the alleged abuser. The defendant won't be present at the initial hearing since all the judge can issue at this stage is a temporary PFA.
A final hearing will normally be scheduled within ten days of the initial hearing, at which point the defendant can make their case.
Recipients of PFA Orders in Lebanon County
Petitioners can only file for a PFA against someone they're in a “qualifying” domestic relationship with. These relationships can be familial or romantic and include:
- Spouses and ex-spouses
- Current or ex-domestic partners
- Intimate partners
- Same-sex couples
- Blood relatives, e.g., parents, children, siblings
- Relatives by marriage
No one under 18 can file a PFA, which means a parent must file on their behalf.
Individuals can't file against anyone they don't have a qualifying relationship with, which means a PFA can't be sought against acquaintances, work colleagues, or classmates unless they can prove an intimate relationship exists.
Lebanon County: PFA Process
In PA, the PFA process is usually straightforward.
- The petitioner files their application with the local court.
- An ex parte hearing is scheduled, where the petitioner makes their case before the judge.
- If the court grants a temporary PFA, police officers serve the defendant with the order and details of the final hearing date.
- At the final hearing, which is normally within ten days of the initial hearing, both parties appear before the court. The judge will then decide if a final PFA is merited.
Temporary PFA Orders
A judge can't issue a final PFA without first issuing a temporary order. Temporary orders are designed to give applicants emergency protection against an alleged abuser for a short period of time until a final hearing is scheduled.
To get a temporary order, the applicant must set out specific details, including the time, date, and location where the alleged abuse took place. The judge may have further questions for the petitioner, which should be answered at the ex parte hearing between the judge and the applicant.
The applicant should set out what type of protections they're seeking, such as restricting the use of firearms by the alleged abuser. If the judge believes the protection is necessary, they'll issue a temporary PFA.
Given how serious the consequences of even a temporary PFA order in Lebanon County can be, the courts aim to schedule a final hearing within ten days of the temporary order being granted.
If you're served with PFA papers, you should instruct an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately.
The Protection from Abuse Order Hearing
Both parties should attend the PFA hearing. If you don't attend, the judge may issue a PFA order against you, so it's in your interest to attend.
At the PFA hearing, both parties can present their case to the judge. However, the burden of proof falls with the applicant, who must prove that from a “preponderance of the evidence” abuse took place, and the defendant is responsible. A preponderance of the evidence means it's more likely than not that the abuse took place, which means it's lower than the criminal standard of proof (beyond reasonable doubt).
Although you can represent yourself at a final PFA hearing, it's best if you instruct a criminal defense attorney who understands how to defend you properly.
Final PFA Orders in Lebanon County
If the judge finds in the applicant's favor, they'll issue a final PFA. Depending on the terms of the PFA, the defendant may be prevented from doing things such as:
- Living at their home address if they share it with the applicant
- Contacting the petitioner or their family members
- Possessing a firearm or permit
- Visiting children they share with the applicant
Final PFAs can be valid for up to three years. A final PFA can also be extended beyond its expiration date upon good cause. If a defendant breaks the terms of the order, they could face contempt of court charges which merit a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.
Hire an Experienced Protection from Abuse Order Attorney in Lebanon County
A Protection from Abuse order can affect every facet of your life, from your family relationships to your career. If you're facing a PFA order, it's crucial you contact an experienced attorney right away to ensure you build the best defense in your case. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm can help you fight this battle – contact the Firm now on 888-535-3686 or complete our online form.