Violence in families and between intimate partners is a serious problem in Pennsylvania and nationwide. In 1990, the Pennsylvania legislature passed the Protection from Abuse Act, which created a process to protect domestic or sexual violence victims from their abusers. Through this law, victims of violent relationships can obtain a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order from a court that prevents their abuser from contacting or approaching them. See Pa. Stat. 23 § 6101, et seq. (2018).
How PFAs Are Filed in Delaware County
When filing for a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order in Delaware County, an applicant will do so at the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas in Media, Pennsylvania. Complainants should file protection from abuse applications in the Office of the Court Administrator on the courthouse's first floor. The court's physical address is:
Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, Office of the Court Administrator
201 W. Front St.
Main, PA 19063
The courthouse is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 4:15 pm. Complainants must obtain and complete PFA applications in the Office of Judicial Support in room 127 of the courthouse. Then applicants will take the PFA forms to the Office of the Court Administrator on the first floor of the courthouse to be taken before a judge. The phone number for the Office of the Court Administrator is 610-891-4550.
After 3 pm, a District Judge can issue an emergency order when the Court of Common Pleas is closed. The order will typically stay in place until the court opens the next day, and you can apply for a PFA order. After hours, an applicant for a PFA should call610-565-6990 and ask for the Magisterial District Judge on duty.
Recipients of a PFA Order in Delaware County
To obtain a PFA in Pennsylvania, you must have a qualifying domestic relationship, which includes:
- Spouses, intimate partners, same-sex partners, or those dating,
- Former spouses, intimate partners, or those who dated,
- Couples with a child together,
- Family relationships like siblings, parents, and children, and
- Those related by blood or marriage.
PFA Process in Delaware County
The PFA order process is typically similar in most Pennsylvania counties. In Delaware County:
- The complainant applies and obtains a temporary PFA in either an ex parte hearing or an emergency hearing.
- Police will serve the defendant with a temporary PFA order and hearing date for the final PFA.
- Both parties may participate in a hearing with a judge to determine whether to issue a final PFA order.
Temporary Protection from Abuse Order
Applications for PFAs happen in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas in Main. Applicants file with the County Court Administrator's office on the first floor of the courthouse. While the courthouse is open from 8:30 am to 4:15 pm every weekday, complainants must file PFA petitions between 8:30 and 3:00 pm. Filers should get there as early as possible to have enough time to meet with the judge in an ex parte hearing. The defendant doesn't have the right to be present.
If a judge issues a temporary PFA, the police will serve the defendant with the order. The temporary PFA will contain provisions preventing the defendant from approaching or contacting the complainant. The police will also serve the defendant with a hearing date for a final PFA hearing, typically taking place within ten days of the initial order.
Protection from Abuse Order Hearing
A judge in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas will decide whether to issue a final PFA in a hearing with both parties present. At the hearing, both the complainant and the defendant have the right to testify, present witnesses, and produce evidence. If the defendant fails to appear, the judge may issue a final PFA order anyway, without hearing your side of the story. If you choose to testify at the PFA hearing, the complainant's lawyer may cross-examine you. Likewise, your attorney can cross-examine the complainant.
As part of the final PFA hearing, the complainant must prove by a "preponderance of the evidence" that an act of domestic violence occurred. These acts can include:
- physical or sexual abuse,
- intimidation that causes real fear of physical abuse, or
- restraining the complainant and knowingly keeping them against their will with no safe way to escape.
Because a PFA hearing is a civil rather than criminal matter, the complainant's burden of proof is lower than the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard used in criminal trials. The complainant must prove that an act of domestic violence occurred by a "preponderance of the evidence," meaning it's more likely than not that you committed the act of domestic violence.
If you already have a domestic violence conviction against the complainant, you may have more of an uphill battle defending yourself against a PFA. In that case, it's even more essential that you retain a skilled criminal defense attorney with PFA litigation experience. But if the complainant alleges you committed an act of domestic violence, but no court has yet convicted you, it's still important to have an attorney present to defend you. While the court won't require that you have a lawyer present, the PFA hearing will be a formal hearing that follows the rules of the court and the rules of evidence. Without legal training, it can be difficult to successfully navigate the rules of evidence, introduce evidence to help your case, and attack evidence that hurts your case.
Final Protection from Abuse Order
If the judge decides to grant the final PFA, it will contain provisions preventing you from approaching or contacting the complainant for up to three years, including email, text, or other messaging. Although, if you have children together, the PFA will typically have provisions allowing limited contact concerning the welfare of a child you have together, sometimes through a third party. The PFA may also remove you from a home you share with the complainant, even if you pay the rent or mortgage. The order may also require you to pay temporary child or spousal support and continue to pay existing financial obligations like insurance or car payments. The PFA may also order the police to confiscate your guns or firearms, order drug or alcohol treatment, or order counseling or anger management classes.
Hire an Experienced PFA Attorney in Delaware County
If you've got a PFA hearing against you approaching in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. A PFA can have long-term consequences, and Attorney Joseph D. Lento can help. He has unparalleded experience in criminal defense and has defended many clients from PFAs and domestic violence allegations in Pennsylvania. Give the Lento Law Firm a call at 888-536-3686 or contact them online.