Domestic violence is a serious matter in Pennsylvania. As a result, the legislature created a process for domestic or sexual violence victims to obtain protection from their abusers. The Protection from Abuse Act, a 1990 Pennsylvania law, details the process for obtaining a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order and the proof an applicant must provide. See Pa. Stat. 23 § 6101, et seq. (2018).
Filing a PFA in Montgomery County
A complainant who applies for a PFA in Montgomery County will do so at the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas in Norristown, Pennsylvania. The family court division has its own PFA unit located on the first floor of the courthouse. The courthouse physical address is:
Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, Family Division
P.O. Box 311
Norristown, PA 19404-0311
The courthouse is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 4:15 pm. Complainants must file PFA applications between 8:30 am and 1:30 pm. Senior Judge Rhonda Lee Danielle typically handles most PFA hearings. Her office number is 610-278-3181. After hours, an applicant for a PFA should call610-275-1222 and ask for the Magisterial District Judge on duty.
Recipients of a PFA Order in Montgomery County
Only those with a qualifying domestic relationship can obtain a PFA in Pennsylvania. Qualifying relationships include:
- Current or former spouses,
- Current or former intimate partners,
- Those with a child together,
- Siblings, parents, or children, and
- Those related by blood or marriage.
Same-sex relationships also qualify for PFA orders.
PFA Process in Montgomery County
In Pennsylvania, the process of obtaining protection from abuse orders is typically about the same in most counties. In Montgomery County:
- The complainant will obtain a temporary PFA from a judge in an ex parte or emergency hearing.
- The police will serve you with a temporary PFA order and notice of a hearing for the final PFA.
- Both parties will have the chance to participate in a hearing with a family court judge who will decide whether or not to issue a final PFA order.
Temporary Protection from Abuse Order
Applications for PFAs happen in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas in Norristown. The court's PFA unit is on the first floor of the courthouse. While the courthouse is open weekdays from 8:30 am to 4:15 pm, people must file PFA petitions between 8:30 and 1:30 pm. Complainants should get there as early as possible to have sufficient time to address the family court judge in the ex parte hearing. The defendant will not be present and has no right to notice of this hearing.
After the judge issues the temporary PFA, the police will serve you, the defendant, with the order. The temporary order will typically contain restrictions preventing you from contacting the complainant or approaching them. The order will also notify you of a date for the final hearing, typically within ten days of the initial order.
Protection from Abuse Order Hearing
The final PFA hearing will take place before a judge in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas. At the hearing, both you and the complainant will have the chance to tell your stories. Both of you can also introduce witness testimony and other evidence to the court. You will also both have the right to cross-examine the other side's witnesses. If you testify, the complainant's lawyer may cross-examine you, and your attorney can cross-examine the plaintiff as well.
During the final PFA hearing, the complainant must prove that an act of domestic or sexual violence occurred, including:
- Sexual abuse,
- Physical abuse,
- Intimidation causing real fear of physical abuse, or
- Restraint that knowingly kept them against their will with no safe means to escape.
Because a PFA hearing is a civil matter and not a criminal trial, the complainant doesn't have to prove an act of domestic violence “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Rather, they must prove their case by a “preponderance of the evidence.” This standard means that it's more likely than not that you committed the act of domestic violence, or 50.1% likely.
If a court has already convicted you of a domestic violence offense against the complainant, it may be more difficult to challenge the evidence in court. While it's not impossible, you will need a skilled criminal defense attorney with experience challenging PFA orders. However, if the complainant made allegations of domestic violence against you but no court has yet convicted you, it's just as important to have a lawyer present.
The final PFA hearing will follow the rules of evidence and the court's procedural rules, which can be difficult to navigate without legal training. An experienced criminal defense attorney will understand how to introduce evidence in your favor and challenge the evidence against you at the hearing. Your best chance of success at the PFA hearing is to have an experienced criminal defense and PFA attorney by your side.
Final Protection from Abuse Order
If the judge grants the final PFA, it will have provisions that prevent you from contacting the complainant for up to three years. The order may also prevent you from contacting the complainant via phone, text, email, or other electronic means unless it concerns the welfare of a child you have together. The PFA order may also prevent you from returning to a shared home, even if you pay the rent or mortgage. PFA orders can also order you to pay temporary child custody and support, confiscate your guns or firearms, and order you to attend counseling or drug and alcohol treatment.
Hire an Experienced PFA Attorney in Montgomery County
If you're facing a protection from abuse order in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, it may have serious long-term consequences on your life. You need the guidance of a skilled defense attorney with experience representing clients from protection from abuse orders. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has many years of experience in PFA defense, domestic violence defense, and criminal defense throughout Pennsylvania. He can help you too. Give the Lento Law Firm a call at 888-536-3686 or contact them online.