In general, a PFA violation can be anything that goes against the court's PFA order. If you receive an emergency, temporary, or final PFA order against you, then you should promptly read the full order and comply with its every term. Any step beyond the terms of a PFA order is the order's violation. While PFA orders aren't always perfectly clear, judges tend to interpret the spirit and intent of each PFA restriction. Any defendant facing a PFA order should be thinking, “comply, comply, comply.”
Broad PFA Orders Show Their Many Potential Violations. Pennsylvania PFA orders can be extremely broad. The Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Act's relief provision 23 Pa. CSA §6108 authorizes the court to “grant any protection order or approve any consent agreement to bring about a cessation of abuse of the plaintiff or minor children.” The same Section 6108(a) lists several potential orders that the court may make. Section 6108(a)'s list is non-exclusive. The last item on Section 6108(a)'s list is “any other appropriate relief sought by the plaintiff.” The court may, and courts often do, make other orders to end the abuse of the plaintiff or minor children beyond Section 6108(a)'s long list. Yet Section 6108(a) lists the common provisions that judges tend to include in PFA orders because of their common violation. Those restrictions include:
- directing the defendant to refrain from abusing the plaintiff or minor children
- restoring possession and granting exclusive possession to the plaintiff of the residence or household
- evicting and excluding the defendant from the residence or household even if jointly owned or leased by the parties
- removing custody of the children from the defendant
- awarding temporary custody of the children to the plaintiff
- restricting defendant's contact with the children to temporary visitation rights
- directing the defendant to pay financial support to the plaintiff and minor children
- requiring the defendant to provide health insurance coverage for the minor child and plaintiff spouse
- directing the defendant to pay unreimbursed medical expenses of the plaintiff spouse and minor children
- directing the defendant to pay rent or mortgage payments on the plaintiff's residence
- prohibiting the defendant from having any contact with the plaintiff or minor children
- restraining the defendant from entering the plaintiff's place of employment or business or school
- restraining the defendant from entering the school of the minor children
- restraining the defendant from harassing the plaintiff or plaintiff's relatives or minor children
- prohibiting the defendant from acquiring or possessing any firearm
- requiring the defendant to temporarily relinquish to law enforcement any firearms under the defendant's possession or control
- requiring the defendant to relinquish to law enforcement any firearm license
- requiring the defendant to relinquish the defendant's other weapons or ammunition used or threatened in an incident of abuse
- directing the defendant to pay the plaintiff's losses from abuse including medical, dental, relocation and moving expenses, counseling, loss of earnings or support, costs of repair or replacement of real or personal property damaged, destroyed, or taken by the defendant or at the defendant's direction, and other out-of-pocket losses for injuries sustained
- requiring the defendant to pay the plaintiff's reasonable attorney fees
- restraining the defendant from stalking the plaintiff or other persons
Especially Risky Restrictions. Common PFA violations occur around certain especially risky PFA restrictions. One of those common restrictions and violations has to do with PFA no-contact orders. No contact means no contact, even when the plaintiff appears to invite the contact or the contact seems not only harmless but actually helpful. If you face a PFA no-contact order, then don't get tricked or lulled into any contact, no matter how harmless or helpful the contact may seem. Another especially risky PFA provision has to do with common restrictions on the distance the defendant must maintain from the plaintiff, the plaintiff's home or workplace, or the minor children or their school. If the PFA order requires a 1,000-foot distance, then the defendant must be sure not to accidentally or intentionally come closer than that restriction allows. With the plaintiff and minor children moving about, distance restrictions can be especially tricky.
Criminal Penalties for Violating a PFA Order. The reason that you must read any PFA order, emergency, temporary, or final, and comply with its broadest letter, spirit, and intent, is that PFA orders come with severe potential penalties for their violation. Courts have the general power to enforce their orders by holding in contempt of court those parties or other restrained persons who violate them. Depending on the circumstances, contempt or court can generally be either civil or criminal. That means that contempt of court could result in civil fines and damages or criminal conviction and incarceration. You could end up arrested without a warrant under Section 6113 and in jail for violating your PFA order. Section 6114 of Pennsylvania's Protection from Abuse Act provides these criminal penalties for violating a PFA order:
- a fine of not less than $300 nor more than $1,000 and imprisonment up to six months or a fine of not less than $300 nor more than $1,000 and supervised probation not to exceed six months
- extension of the PFA order for an additional term
- other relief set forth as the Act provides
Civil Penalties for Violating a PFA Order. The civil penalties for violating a PFA order can be nearly as harsh as the criminal penalties. Section 6114.1 of Pennsylvania's Protection from Abuse Act provides that a “sentence for civil contempt under this chapter may include imprisonment until the defendant complies with provisions in the order or consent agreement or demonstrates the intent to do so, but in no case shall a term of imprisonment under this section exceed a period of six months.” A judge can hold a PFA defendant in jail indefinitely for up to six months while the defendant attempts to demonstrate compliance or intent. Compliance and intent can be hard to prove while in jail. And the same Section 6.114.1 permits the plaintiff to petition to hold the defendant in contempt. The message is clear: don't risk anything that the plaintiff could prove to be a violation of the PFA order.
Better Approaches Over Risking PFA Violations. Defendants who face especially onerous PFA restrictions have two better approaches than risking their violation. The first approach is to contest the PFA order. Beating the request for a PFA order is far better than submitting to the PFA request, consenting to an onerous PFA order, and then trying to beat a charge of the PFA order's violation. Defend the PFA petition aggressively with the representation of Pennsylvania PFA defense attorney Joseph D. Lento of the Lento Law Firm. Another approach that is generally far better than risking a PFA order's violation is to petition the court under Section 6108(d) to amend and modify the PFA order to make it less onerous to comply. Local courts in Philadelphia, Allegheny County, and throughout Pennsylvania maintain dockets and procedures facilitating modification of PFA orders. Far better to modify than to violate a PFA order.
Get Expert PFA Attorney Help. Defending a PFA order proceeding, petitioning to modify an existing PFA order, or contesting one's alleged violation of a PFA order in a civil or criminal contempt proceeding, are all risky businesses requiring skilled, aggressive, and effective representation from a Pennsylvania PFA defense attorney. Contact the Lento Law Firm by calling 888.535.3686 or online for a prompt consultation with premier Pennsylvania PFA defense attorney Joseph D. Lento. Don't wait until it's too late. Get Attorney Lento's help before you run afoul of an unduly harsh PFA order.