In Pennsylvania, a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order is a civil order from the court giving protection to domestic violence victims, sexual assault, and stalking. A PFA is another name for a restraining order or protection order. Protection from Abuse orders can also protect victims from crimes like harassment, physical intimidation, stalking, and other threats involving bodily harm. Pennsylvania's 1990 law, the Protection from Abuse Act, lists the procedures for obtaining a PFA. The PFA Act also delineates court and police policies and the rules and regulations both the alleged abuser and victim must follow through the PFA process. See Pa. Stat. 23 § 6101, et seq. (2018).
Obtaining a Protection from Abuse Order
Protection from Abuse (PFA) orders are available for those with a family or intimate relationship with the alleged offender. These relationships include:
- Current or former spouses
- Current or former intimate or sexual partners
- Members of the same household related by blood or by marriage
- Same-sex couples
- Parents and children
If a PFA applicant is under 18, they need a parent or guardian to file on their behalf. You can't obtain a PFA for roommates, coworkers, strangers, neighbors, or classmates unless you have the family or intimate relationships listed above.
Defending Yourself from a PFA
When the police serve you with a PFA, it will be either a temporary or final PFA. A judge generally issues a temporary PFA in an ex parte hearing. That means that you will not receive a notice and do not have the right to attend the initial hearing. In some cases, the temporary PFA hearing is an emergency hearing. A judge will issue a temporary PFA if:
- The parties have a qualifying domestic relationship, and
- The judge believes that the plaintiff or the plaintiff's children are in imminent danger.
For a temporary PFA, you will also receive a notice of a hearing, typically taking place within ten days. You must appear at the hearing. If you fail to do so, the judge may issue a final protection from abuse without your input. This final order can prevent you from contacting or approaching the plaintiff or even texting or emailing them. The order could also prevent you from entering places where the plaintiff works, goes to school, or frequents. Having an attorney at the hearing isn't mandatory, but having an attorney experienced in PFA hearings is your best option for a successful outcome.
The Hearing for a PFA
It is imperative that you attend the final PFA hearing. If you cannot attend the hearing date for some urgent reason, you should ask your attorney to request a new date from the court. If the court moves the hearing, the judge may extend the temporary PFA as well.
You have the right to an attorney at your final PFA hearing and present witnesses and evidence at the hearing. This hearing is the chance for you to tell your side of the story in response to the plaintiff's accusations. Your attorney may cross-examine witnesses and evidence presented to the court, and the plaintiff's attorney will have the same chance. In some cases, the judge may ask you questions too. The hearing will follow the court's rules and the rules of evidence, which makes ensuring that you present your evidence to the court properly quite important. Complying with these rules can be difficult without an attorney who is an experienced litigator and skilled in defending PFA hearings by your side.
Final Protection from Abuse Order
If the judge issues a final PFA, it will contain many provisions to protect the plaintiff and their children. Provisions can include:
- An order to refrain from approaching or contacting the plaintiff, including emails, messaging, texting, and other forms of online contact.
- An order to leave your shared residence. The court may order this even if you are the sole owner of the home, on the lease, or the partner that pays the mortgage or rent.
- An order to continue financial support. The PFA can also direct you to continue paying the mortgage or rent, pay child support, or continue to meet other shared financial obligations like a car payment or loans.
- An order granting temporary custody of children and providing for visitations.
- An order to give up any guns, firearms, or licenses to purchase guns.
- An order to attend counseling, anger management classes, or drug and alcohol counseling.
Once you're subject to a PFA, violating the order is a crime. A PFA is typically a civil matter, not a criminal matter. However, after an accusation that you've violated a PFA, you can find yourself facing up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. If found guilty of violating a PFA, you will have a criminal record for “indirect criminal contempt.” Even violations of a PFA that you believe were innocent or inadvertent can result in a criminal charge.
Temporary and Final PFA Differences
Temporary and final PFAs are very similar. Both orders offer one party in a current or former intimate or family relationship protection from domestic violence. A judge also grants both orders. However, a judge may grant a temporary PFA ex parte, with only the plaintiff present. But the defendant is entitled to appear and present evidence at a hearing before a judge grants a final PFA.
The biggest difference between temporary and final orders is the length of time the order lasts. A temporary PFA will only remain in place for ten days or until the final PFA hearing. However, a final PFA can last for up to three years.
Hire an Experienced Attorney
A final FPA order can have long-lasting consequences on your life. That's why your best defense is to hire an attorney skilled in handling and defending against protections from abuse. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has years of experience defending Pennsylvania clients from PFAs and criminal domestic violence charges. Give the Lento Law Firm a call at 888-536-3686 or contact them online. Attorney Lento can help you too.