A Protection from Abuse (PFA) order is a type of restraining order designed to protect a victim of abuse from further harm.
If a PFA order is made against you, it can seriously affect your future prospects and personal relationships. Seek legal advice immediately if you're served with PFA papers. In the meantime, here's how PFAs in York County work and what to expect from a PFA order hearing.
How to File for a PFA in York County
Applicants must file a petition with the York County Protection from Abuse (PFA) Office. The Office can be found at:
York County Judicial Center
45 North George Street
York, PA 17401
The PFA Office is open between 8:00 am and 4:00 pm Monday-Friday. The contact number is (717) 771-9662.
A victim can file a PFA directly with the PFA Office without speaking to an attorney. They must set out, in detail, the circumstances of their case, including the dates and times of the alleged abuse and the name of the alleged abuser.
Outside core hours, applicants can file for an emergency PFA which lasts until 4:30 pm the following business day. The applicant must file for a temporary PFA during regular business hours.
Qualifying Relationships for PFA Orders in York County
In Philadelphia, a person can only seek a Protection from Abuse order against those they're in a qualifying romantic or familial relationship with, such as:
- Same-sex couples
- Spouses and domestic partners
- Ex-spouses and ex-domestic partners
- Blood relatives or marital relatives
Under 18s must ask a parent to file a PFA on their behalf.
PFA Process in York County
Filing for a PFA in York County is simple to do.
- First, the applicant files a petition with the local court. An applicant can take a few hours to complete the petition because a certain amount of detail is required before a judge will consider the application.
- The applicant attends the temporary PFA hearing and makes their case before the judge. A temporary PFA order may be issued, which normally lasts around ten business days.
- The defendant receives papers setting out the terms of the order.
- Both parties attend the final PFA hearing, at which point the judge may issue a long-term PFA order.
If you don't attend the final hearing, the judge can still issue an order against you, or even a bench warrant, so you should always attend the hearing and defend your case.
Temporary PFA Orders
Temporary orders only last until the day of the final Protection from Abuse hearing. They are designed to give the victim immediate or emergency protection from the defendant until a final hearing can be scheduled.
- Defendants can't attend the temporary PFA hearing – it's only for the judge and victim and other "non-defendant" parties involved on the victim's behalf, such as the victim's attorney or a victim advocate.
- The victim must prove that the temporary order is necessary on the basis of the evidence. They must also prove that the defendant is the person responsible for harm sustained.
- The judge can, however, issue a permanent (final) PFA order without first issuing a temporary order.
If the judge issues a temporary Protection from Abuse order, or in the limited instances when a judge issues a final PFA hearing notice only, police officers serve the defendant with papers setting out the terms of the order (as applicable) and the final hearing date. It's crucial that a defendant seeks legal advice at this stage to protect their best interests.
Final Protection from Abuse Hearing
Around ten days after the temporary or emergency PFA is issued, the court schedules the final PFA hearing. (As also mentioned above, in limited instances, the court can decline granting a temporary PFA but can nonetheless grant a final PFA hearing date to allow the plaintiff to seek a final PFA.) You should attend this hearing – it's your opportunity to present your defense and set out why the order is unnecessary.
That being said, the burden of proof still lies with the applicant. In other words, it's on the applicant to show that:
- There is a qualifying relationship between the parties to allow for the issuance of PFA
- The court has jurisdiction (meaning the abuse took place in York County or there is a strong connection to York County in terms of venue)
- The abuse took place
- The defendant is responsible for the abuse
- On the basis of the evidence available, the PFA order is necessary to protect the victim from further harm.
An attorney can set out what defenses to the order may be available to you, based on the facts of the case and what specific conditions the applicant is seeking.
Given how serious the consequences of a Protection from Abuse order can be, you shouldn't attempt to represent yourself at a final PFA hearing – contact an experienced criminal defense attorney for effective representation.
Final PFA Orders in York County
At the PFA hearing, a judge may issue a final Protection from Abuse order. This order is valid for up to three years, and it will be issued if the court finds that it's appropriate way to protect the victim from further harm.
The exact terms of a final Protection from Abuse order vary depending on the facts of each case. However, a defendant might be prevented from doing things such as:
- Contacting the applicant, their family, or third parties
- Living in the same household as the applicant, even if it's their main place of residence
- Possessing a firearm
A defendant must abide by the terms of the PFA order. Otherwise, the court may find the defendant in contempt and issue a $1,000 fine and/or up to six months in jail.
If a final PFA order is made against you, then your attorney can explain the conditions set out in the order and how they affect you.
Either party can seek a motion to reconsider the PFA which must be brought within 10 days of the issuance of the order and/or either party can appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court within 30 days of the issuance of the final PFA order. Trying to win a PFA on the back end is a misguided approach, however, but in some instances taking these steps is necessary to seek justice. That being said, because of what is at stake and also the dynamics involved, winning a PFA case requires the best approach as early as possible in the case, and this is true regardless if one is the plaintiff or defendant.
Once the final PFA expires, the applicant can file to renew the order for another set period. If this happens, you will need further legal representation to set out why the order should not be renewed. The court will decide such a request based on whether or not there is "good cause" to extend the final PFA beyond it allotted term.
Defend a PFA Order With an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney on Your Side
Although you can represent yourself at a PFA hearing, it's in your best interests to instruct an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you fight your case. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm fight on behalf of PFA defendants day in and day out in York County and throughout Pennsylvania. Attorney Lento and his team are among the most experienced PFA attorneys statewide and they help you through this difficult time. For legal representation and advice on building a defense to a PFA order, contact the Lento Law Firm online or call us on 888-535-3686 now.