Protection from Abuse Orders, “PFAs,” are valuable tools for protecting victims of domestic violence. Whether you're seeking a PFA or a PFA has been ordered against you, it's likely you're going through an extremely stressful and emotional experience. This process isn't one you should deal with alone If you have PFA concerns, consult with a PA family law attorney right away.
Understanding Pennsylvania PFAs
It's important for those accused of domestic abuse to understand the purpose of PFAs. Neither a Temporary PFA nor a Final PFA Order is criminal in nature. Often, those accused of domestic violence will also be charged with certain crimes, like assault, but that is handled separately.
For purposes of determining whether a person's actions constituted domestic abuse, the victim needs to present evidence that meets a “preponderance of the evidence” standard. PFAs aren't designed to punish the abuser, although they may feel like they're being punished. Instead, PFAs are necessary due to the unique nature of the parties involved. The domestic relationship required in PFA cases include:
- Intimate partners
- Blood relatives
- Parents of the same children
The PFA Order serves to keep the abuser physically distanced from their victim and further prevents them from making contact. This is often necessary for relationships with this degree of familiarity.
The PFA Hearing Process
When an event occurs that constitutes domestic violence, the victim or a bystander may call 911 or the authorities. The victim may decide to pursue an emergency PFA order from the on-duty Magistrate. An emergency PFA order will remain in place for a short period and typically triggers the full PFA process.
A Temporary PFA may be the first stop in the victim's PFA process, or it may come after the Emergency PFA process. Either way, the Temporary PFA will be issued only after a hearing. The accused isn't present for the Temporary PFA hearing, and in fact, they don't even need to be notified of the hearing. The Temporary PFA hearing serves as a stop-gap measure to protect the victim until a more thorough investigation can be made. Once you receive notice of a Temporary PFA order against you, you need to begin preparing for the Final PFA Hearing.
What You Need to Know about the Final PFA Hearing
The Final PFA Hearing occurs within about ten days of the Temporary PFA Order. If you haven't already, your first step should be to retain a qualified attorney who can help you build and present your case. There's not much time, so you need to operate quickly. It's also critical you seek out an experienced attorney like Joseph D. Lento, who will know what needs to be accomplished in such a short time frame.
At the Final PFA hearing, the accuser only needs to demonstrate, through a preponderance of the evidence, that they and the accused have a qualified relationship and that domestic violence occurred. The bar is not that high, and if a defendant isn't prepared, they're likely to end up with a Final PFA Order against them.
At the Final PFA Hearing, those who've been accused of committing acts of domestic violence will have a chance to present evidence that demonstrates their side of events. Domestic violence is very serious, but unfortunately, accusers aren't always truthful about what happened. In some instances, the accuser has lied or embellished, and the Final PFA Hearing is the defendant's opportunity to demonstrate this.
Who is at the Final PFA Hearing?
At the Final PFA Hearing, you can and should bring your lawyer with you. During the hearing, you'll be able to present evidence and speak before the PFA Officer. The PFA Officer might be a magisterial district judge, a municipal city court judge, or a specially appointed magistrate.
In addition to the judge, you, your attorney, your accuser, and your accuser's attorney will be at the hearing. Additionally, there may be witnesses who will testify on either you or your accuser's behalf.
How to Prepare for the Final PFA Hearing
There are two proactive steps you need to take after you receive notice of a Temporary PFA Order against you. While you're awaiting the Final PFA Hearing, you need to
- be on your best behavior and
- gather evidence.
You should assume your every action is being monitored. When you're hit with a notice of a Temporary PFA Order against you, the first thing you might want to do is reach out to your accuser. Don't do this. If you violate the PFA before your Final PFA Hearing, you could be arrested. Further, this violation will only serve as evidence against you at the Final PFA Hearing.
As to the issue of evidence, you should work with your attorney to figure out what evidence might most benefit you during the Final PFA Hearing. Most of the time, written evidence is relied on. This might come in the form of the following:
- Text messages
- Social media messages
- Social media posts
Remember to be truthful with your attorney so they can present your case as competently as possible. Your accuser will also be allowed to present evidence that supports their allegations, so the more informed your attorney is, the better they'll be able to prepare.
What Happens After the Final PFA Hearing?
At the end of the Final PFA Hearing, the court will either order a Final PFA against you, or they'll determine such an order isn't justified, and the restrictions of the Temporary PFA Order will be dropped. If the Final PFA Order doesn't go your way, you may be able to appeal the decision and seek to have the Final PFA Order dropped. Until the PFA order is vacated, you must comply with its terms to avoid criminal arrest.
Retain a Pennsylvania PFA Lawyer
If you or someone you love has received notice of a Temporary PFA Order against them, you need to speak with an attorney as soon as possible. Time is of the essence. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his dedicated Team will help you through this difficult and often emotional situation. To learn more, call 888-535-3686 or contact us online today.