Across the U.S., domestic violence is a chronic problem. Recognizing this, the Pennsylvania legislature passed the Protection from Abuse Act in 1990, which created a legal process to protect victims of domestic or sexual violence from abusers. Under Pennsylvania law, victims of domestic violence can apply for a court order knows as a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order to prevent an abuser from contacting or approaching them. See Pa. Stat. 23 § 6101, et seq. (2018).
Filing a PFA in Dauphin County
To file a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order in Dauphin County, the court asks the complainant or petitioner to contact the Victim Witness Assistance Program for help with filing a PFA application. However, an attorney can be a big help here, assisting the petitioner with documenting abuse at the ex parte hearing, and ensuring they have available witnesses and documentary evidence to support the allegations in a final PFA hearing with a judge.
Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas,
101 Market St
Harrisburg, PA 17101
The court asks applicants to notify the Domestic Relations Office if domestic violence is an issue in any family court case. The phone number is 717-780-6719.
After hours, applicants must call their local police department and ask for the on-call Magisterial District Justice. The District Justice can issue an emergency PFA valid until 4:30 pm on the next day the court is open.
Recipients of a PFA Order in Dauphin County
To get a PFA in Pennsylvania, the applicant needs to have a family or current or former intimate relationship with the defendant. These relationships include:
- Spouses and ex-spouses,
- Couples who have lived together intimately,
- Current or former domestic partners,
- Current or former same-sex couples,
- Current or former sexual or intimate partners, including dating relationships,
- Children, or
- People related by blood or marriage, including siblings.
Applicants cannot get a PFA against a stranger, co-worker, schoolmate, or roommate.
PFA Process in Dauphin County
In Pennsylvania, the process for obtaining a PFA is pretty similar in every jurisdiction. In Dauphin County:
- The applicant will request a temporary PFA with the court, which lasts about ten business days.
- The police will serve the temporary PFA on the defendant, along with a hearing date for the final PFA.
- Both the applicant and the defendant may participate in the final hearing before the judge determines whether to issue a final PFA.
Temporary Protection from Abuse Order
An applicant begins the PFA process by filling out a “petition” at the Dauphin County courthouse. A judge will then read it ask the applicant or petitioner to answer some specific questions about the alleged abuse or domestic violence. This hearing is ex parte, meaning the defendant won't be there. If the judge believes there's a credible threat of abuse, they may grant a temporary PFA order and schedule a final hearing date. The temporary PFA will remain in place until the final hearing, typically about ten business days.
Protection from Abuse Order Hearing
A Dauphin County Family Court judge makes the final decision on the PFA in a hearing with both you and the petitioner present. But if you fail to appear, the judge may issue the final PFA without you present. You must appear at the final hearing. You'll have the chance to tell your story and introduce your own evidence and witnesses at the hearing. The petitioner must prove that domestic violence happened by a “preponderance of the evidence,” meaning it's more likely than not abuse occurred. Acts of domestic violence or abuse can include:
- Causing or attempting to cause bodily injury,
- Placing someone in fear of imminent serious bodily injury,
- Rape or sexual assault,
- Physically or sexually abusing a child,
- Repeatedly committing acts that place an individual in fear of bodily injury, or
- Interfering with an individual's freedom of movement.
If the petitioner has an attorney and you don't, you'll be at a disadvantage in court. It can also be quite difficult to navigate the rules of evidence in a court hearing without an attorney. As a result, it's essential that you hire an attorney as soon as police serve you with the temporary PFA.
Final Protection from Abuse Order
If the judge decides to grant the final PFA, it will prevent you from approaching or contacting the petitioner for up to three years. The order may include additional relief, including provisions:
"(1) Directing the defendant to refrain from abusing the plaintiff or minor children.
(2) Granting possession to the plaintiff of the residence or household to the exclusion of the defendant by evicting the defendant or restoring possession to the plaintiff if the residence or household is jointly owned or leased by the parties, is owned or leased by the entireties or is owned or leased solely by the plaintiff.
(3) If the defendant has a duty to support the plaintiff or minor children living in the residence or household and the defendant is the sole owner or lessee, granting possession to the plaintiff of the residence or household to the exclusion of the defendant by evicting the defendant or restoring possession to the plaintiff or, with the consent of the plaintiff, ordering the defendant to provide suitable alternate housing.
(4) Awarding temporary custody of or establishing temporary visitation rights with regard to minor children.…." Pa. Stat. 23 § 6108 (2018).
The judge may also order that you pay financial support for your children or a spouse in the PFA:
"(5) After a hearing in accordance with section 6107(a), directing the defendant to pay financial support to those persons the defendant has a duty to support, requiring the defendant, under sections 4324 (relating to inclusion of medical support) and 4326 (relating to mandatory inclusion of child medical support), to provide health coverage for the minor child and spouse, directing the defendant to pay all of the unreimbursed medical expenses of a spouse or minor child of the defendant to the provider or to the plaintiff when he or she has paid for the medical treatment, and directing the defendant to make or continue to make rent or mortgage payments on the residence of the plaintiff to the extent that the defendant has a duty to support the plaintiff or other dependent household members. The support order shall be temporary, and any beneficiary of the order must file a complaint for support under the provisions of Chapters 43 (relating to support matters generally) and 45 (relating to reciprocal enforcement of support orders) within two weeks of the date of the issuance of the protection order. If a complaint for support is not filed, that portion of the protection order requiring the defendant to pay support is void. When there is a subsequent ruling on a complaint for support, the portion of the protection order requiring the defendant to pay support expires.
(6) Prohibiting the defendant from having any contact with the plaintiff or minor children, including, but not limited to, restraining the defendant from entering the place of employment or business or school of the plaintiff or minor children and from harassing the plaintiff or plaintiff's relatives or minor children." Id.
The PFA will also likely prohibit you from owning or possessing firearms:
"(7) Prohibiting the defendant from acquiring or possessing any firearm for the duration of the order, ordering the defendant to temporarily relinquish to the sheriff or the appropriate law enforcement agency any firearms under the defendant's possession or control, and requiring the defendant to relinquish to the sheriff or the appropriate law enforcement agency any firearm license issued under section 6108.3 (relating to relinquishment to third party for safekeeping) or 18 Pa.C.S. § 6106 (relating to firearms not to be carried without a license) or 6109 (relating to licenses) the defendant may possess. The court may also order the defendant to relinquish the defendant's other weapons or ammunition that have been used or been threatened to be used in an incident of abuse against the plaintiff or the minor children.….
(7.1) If the defendant is a licensed firearms dealer, ordering the defendant to follow such restrictions as the court may require concerning the conduct of his business, which may include ordering the defendant to relinquish any Federal or State license for the sale, manufacture or importation of firearms as well as firearms in the defendant's business inventory. In restricting the defendant pursuant to this paragraph, the court shall make a reasonable effort to preserve the financial assets of the defendant's business while fulfilling the goals of this chapter." Id.
In the PFA, the judge may also order you to pay reparations or losses that the petitioner suffered as a result of the abuse:
"(8) Directing the defendant to pay the plaintiff for reasonable losses suffered as a result of the abuse, including medical, dental, relocation and moving expenses; counseling; loss of earnings or support; costs of repair or replacement of real or personal property damaged, destroyed or taken by the defendant or at the direction of the defendant; and other out-of-pocket losses for injuries sustained. In addition to out-of-pocket losses, the court may direct the defendant to pay reasonable attorney fees. An award under this chapter shall not constitute a bar to litigation for civil damages for injuries sustained from the acts of abuse giving rise to the award or a finding of contempt under this chapter." Id.
In addition to preventing you from contacting the petitioner or their friends or family, the PFA may also keep you from harassing or stalking the petitioner and their friends or family:
"(9) Directing the defendant to refrain from stalking or harassing the plaintiff and other designated persons as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. §§ 2709 (relating to harassment) and 2709.1 (relating to stalking)." Id.
The judge will also have wide latitude to grant any additional relief the petitioner seeks in the PFA hearing:
"(10) Granting any other appropriate relief sought by the plaintiff." Id.
Because a judge can include such a wide range of provisions in a final PFA, you must attend the final PFA hearing. A final PFA will remain in place for up to three years, and you will have no say in its provisions and no opportunity to defend yourself if you fail to attend the final hearing. To successfully defend yourself against a PFA in Dauphin County, you need a skilled Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney with PFA experience.
Hire an Experienced PFA Attorney in Dauphin County
If you're facing a final PFA hearing in Pennsylvania, you need an experienced PFA lawyer right away. A final PFA can remain in place for up to three years, impacting custody of your children, your home, your finances, and your career. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has many years of PFA experience and experience in criminal defense, including domestic violence matters in Pennsylvania. Give the Lento Law Firm a call at 888-536-3686 or contact them online.