Domestic violence in Philadelphia is a serious matter. As a result, the Pennsylvania legislature passed the Protection from Abuse Act in 1990, which created a process to obtain a court order to protect domestic or sexual violence victims from their abusers. Under this law, victims of violent family relationships may obtain a Protection from Abuse order to prevent their abuser from contacting them. See Pa. Stat. 23 § 6101, et seq. (2018). However, if the police serve you with a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order, you need to take immediate action and contact a lawyer quickly.
Filing a PFA in Philadelphia
When filing for a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order in Philadelphia, an applicant will do so at either:
Domestic Violence Intake Unit
1501 Arch St.
Philadelphia, PA 19102
The Domestic Violence Intake Unit is on the 8th floor of the Philadelphia Family Court. The phone number is 215-686-3512. Hours are from 8 am to 5 pm.
Criminal Justice Center
1301 Filbert St.
Philadelphia, PA 19107
The Criminal Justice Center is open for emergency requests from 5 pm to 8 am on weekdays and 24 hours on weekends and holidays. The phone number is 215-683-7200.
Requesting an Emergency PFA
After the Philadelphia Family Court is closed, applicants can get an emergency PFA order at Philly's Emergency Domestic Violence Site located at the Criminal Justice Center, Room B-03 at 1301 Filbert St. in Philadelphia. The phone number is 215-683-7280. Applicants can get an emergency order if they believe they or their children are in immediate danger of harm from a family member before Family Court opens.
- An emergency order can only order the defendant to:
- Stop abusing, stalking, threatening, or harassing the complainant,
- Not have contact with the complainant or their children, including at work or school, and
- Leave your Philadelphia County residence if the complainant jointly or solely owns or leases it.
Emergency orders are typically only valid until 5 pm the next day Family Court opens again, and the court can issue a temporary PFA. If the complainant gets an emergency order, they will receive a temporary PFA from the court in the mail at the address provided to the court. The complainant can also call 215-686-3512 to find out more information.
Recipients of a PFA Order in Philadelphia
To obtain a PFA in Pennsylvania, you must have a domestic or dating relationship. Qualifying relationships include:
- Current and former spouses, intimate partners, and those who are dating or dated in the past,
- Couples with a child together,
- Family relationships, including parents, children, and siblings, and
- Those related by blood or marriage.
PFA Process in Philadelphia
The PFA order process is generally the same across Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia:
- The complainant applies for a temporary or an emergency PFA order in an ex parte hearing.
- Police then serve the defendant with the temporary PFA order and the date for the final PFA hearing.
- Both parties can participate in the final PFA hearing with a judge.
The PFA final hearing date will typically be within ten business days of the initial PFA order.
Protection from Abuse Order Hearing
The final PFA hearing will take place before a judge in Philadelphia Family Court. Both the complainant and the defendant have the right to appear and tell their stories. Both parties will also have the chance to introduce witnesses, produce evidence, and cross-examine the other party's witnesses. If you testify at the final PFA hearing, the complainant's lawyer can cross-examine you. Your attorney will also have the chance to cross-examine the complainant if they testify.
During the final PFA hearing, the complainant must prove by an act of domestic violence occurred by a “preponderance of the evidence.” The Pennsylvania law defines abuse broadly:
"(1) Attempting to cause or intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing bodily injury, serious bodily injury, rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, statutory sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault or incest with or without a deadly weapon; (2) Placing another in reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury; (3) The infliction of false imprisonment pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 2903; (4) Physically or sexually abusing minor children, including such terms as defined in Chapter 63; and (5) knowingly engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts toward another person, including following the person, without proper authority, under the circumstances which place the person in reasonable fear of bodily injury." 23 Pa. Stat. §6102.
Domestic violence can include causing, or attempting to cause, with or without a deadly weapon:
- Bodily injury,
- Serious bodily injury,
- Statutory sexual assault,
- Sexual assault,
- Physical or sexual abuse of a minor,
- False imprisonment,
- Putting another in fear of imminent serious bodily injury
- Indecent assault,
- Incest, and
- Engaging in a “repeated course of conduct that puts someone in reasonable fear of bodily injury.”
The court doesn't require that you have legal representation at the hearing. However, the final PFA hearing is a formal hearing conducted by the rules of the court and the Pennsylvania rules of evidence. Navigating the court's procedures and figuring out how to introduce and attack evidence can be challenging if you don't have legal training. Having an attorney with you is your best option for a successful hearing.
Final Protection from Abuse Order
If the court grants a final PFA, the order can contain provisions that:
- Prevent you from contacting the complainant or your children,
- Removing you from a shared home,
- Confiscating any firearms you own,
- Require you to pay child or spousal support temporarily,
- Require you to attend counseling, anger management classes, and
- drug or alcohol treatment, and
- Requiring you to continue paying shared financial obligations like insurance or car payments.
Final PFA orders may remain in force for up to three years.
Hire an Experienced PFA Attorney in Philadelphia
If you're facing a PFA final hearing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, you need a skilled criminal defense attorney right away. A PFA can have long-term effects on your life. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has unparalleled experience in criminal defense, domestic violence defense, and has represented countless clients in PFA hearings in Philadelphia. Give the Lento Law Firm a call at 888-536-3686 or contact them online.