When a PFA order in Pennsylvania is issued by a court, a respondent is ordered, among other things, to stay away from the petitioner. These orders provide civil legal protection to victims from their abusers. PFA orders typically last three years, a length of time that can have an extremely heavy impact on a respondent's life.
While most PFAs run their course, some are vacated, or dismissed, before they end. If you're interested in having a PFA that's been filed against you vacated, you first need to understand how the PFA works.
What Is a PFA?
A PFA order in Pennsylvania is an order handed down by a judge that provides civil legal protection to victims of abuse by an intimate partner, household member, or a family member. Also known as a “protection from abuse” order, a PFA completely restricts the abuser's access to the victim. Any adult 18 and over or an adult acting on behalf of a child may file a PFA against someone. The petitioner can be of any sex, and they can take out the order against any sex.
There are many different types of abuse that fall under the domestic violence umbrella, including sexual assault, battery, and a host of other offenses. Ultimately, the bottom line is that the abuser is a threat to the victim, and the PFA order is intended to help provide the victim with a level of safety.
What Types of PFA Orders Are There?
There are three types of PFA orders that could be ordered.
A “temporary PFA order” is ordered when the courts are not open, like on weekends or holidays. The order will be in place until a hearing take place.
A “temporary ex parte order” is one that a judge will issue if the respondent is not yet able to be served.
The final type of PFA order is the “final PFA order.” This is the order of that ordered after the judge hears both sides at a hearing. If the judge decides that the PFA is warranted, they will issue a final order that will be in effect for about three years.
How Can a PFA Affect Your Life?
If you're the respondent, there are so many ways that a PFA order can negatively affect your life.
- It can limit the job opportunities that are available to you.
- It can prevent you from seeing your children.
- It can prevent you from accessing certain types of jobs merely because they're somehow connected to a field the petitioner works in, or they're located near where the petitioner lives.
- In spite of the fact that PFA orders are sealed, you may have to disclose it if you apply for jobs that have a security clearance.
- It can prevent you from being involved in your children's lives, creating a situation where they can grow up for a long period without you.
What Happens If You Violate a PFA?
When you violate a PFA order, it means that you didn't follow one or more of the rules listed on that order. Penalties could include everything from paying a fine to getting thrown in jail. In some cases, the PFA order could even be extended, making its negative effects on your life last even longer. This is why when the possibility of having a PFA vacated presents itself, many respondents are extremely interested.
Vacating a PFA Is Sometimes a Possibility
Sometimes a PFA order can be dismissed, or “vacated.” If you've had a PFA order filed against you, you may be wondering if you could get your order vacated. In order to understand if this is even an option, it's important for you to understand exactly how a PFA works.
Only a Petitioner Can Have a PFA Vacated
Before you race to the courthouse, be aware that only a petitioner can file a motion to vacate a PFA in Pennsylvania. Filing an order to vacate a PFA order means that the petitioner has decided to end the PFA order before its three-year expiration date. The court provides a process through which a petitioner can make an application to withdraw the order.
Why Would a Petitioner File to Vacate a PFA Order?
There could be any number of reasons a petitioner may decide to vacate a PFA in Pennsylvania.
- They may have decided that the respondent is no longer a threat. This is often the case in circumstances where the PFA was sought in the heat of the moment. Many people get into intense exchanges, and if someone posed a real threat to the petitioner, they absolutely should have a PFA filed against them. If the petitioner filed the PFA in a moment of anger, however, both they and the respondent may wish to have the order vacated.
- They may have decided that they only filed the PFA order because of reasons unrelated to domestic violence or abuse. Petitioners have sometimes admitted that they filed a PFA order to get custody of children without having to go to custody court, or to get back at their partners for issues like cheating, or they filed them because they were angry. Once they cooled down, they realized that they might have gone too far.
- They may have children with the respondent and realize that it's better for two parents to make a commitment to work together for the good of their children versus keeping those children away from their parent.
It's important to note here that valid PFAs orders are absolutely necessary and can go a long way towards protecting victims in dangerous situations. Those orders should never be vacated. The safety of victims is paramount, and nothing should stand in the way of providing them with protection.
If, however, you're in a situation where the petitioner in your case is filing to vacate the PFA order, you should work with an attorney like Joseph D. Lento, who has experience dealing with this type of legal situation. You'll need someone to help you navigate the process as it goes through the court so that you can have the best chance of getting your life back on track.
The “Vacate a PFA” Process Depends on the County
What happens when a petitioner decides to vacate a PFA will depend in part on the county that the PFA has been ordered in, and also at which stage of the proceedings the PFA case stands - whether the order is a temporary or final order in other words.
In some counties, the victim will actually need to go to court and file a motion to vacate the PFA and present it to the court. (This will always be the case if a final PFA order was issued.) Some counties require petitioners to file something called a praecipe in order to drop the matter. This document can be filed at any point during the temporary PFA stage all the way up to the hearing for the final order. In some cases, the petitioner simply has to tell the judge that they no longer want the order.
Regardless of what the process is, petitioners who wish to vacate PFA orders have to explain to the judge why they want the order vacated. The judge is the only one who can make that determination. If the judge decides that the petitioner has made a valid claim, the judge may decide to dismiss the PFA order. If, on the other hand, the judge decides that the petitioner's claim is not valid, the PFA order will stand. Only a judge is able to vacate a PFA order.
Judges Don't Always Allow a PFA Order to Be Vacated.
Understandably, some judges are reluctant to vacate PFA orders. The judge will probably grill the petitioner to ensure that they're not dropping the order under duress or due to threats.
The judge assumes that if the PFA order was granted in the first place, there must have been a good reason for it to have been issued. They'll deny the petition and leave it in place. Some judges won't even schedule a hearing for a petition to withdraw.
Why You Need Legal Help
If you have a PFA order against you and you've found out that the petitioner would like to vacate the order, you should get an attorney immediately. This is not something that you want to handle yourself.
If you try to get involved in a plaintiff's attempt to vacate a PFA order, you could swiftly be charged with violating the terms of that PFA. It doesn't matter if the plaintiff comes to your defense.
In most instances, the PFA order means absolutely no contact, so working with an attorney is your best option. Your attorney may be able to legally reach out to the plaintiff's attorney and work out an arrangement that ends up benefiting both you and the plaintiff.
PFAs are an extraordinarily serious matter, and they're difficult to remove or have vacated, even if the petitioner requests it. If someone has filed a PFA against you, be aware that once granted, they're pretty much set in stone. While they can be vacated, it is often very difficult to do so. By working with an attorney expert, you may have a better chance of being able to defend yourself.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm help clients with PFA cases day in and day out throughout Pennsylvania, and they help at all stages of the PFA process - from the issuance of a temporary PFA through the PFA final hearing and at the appeals stage when necessary. Attorney Lento can put his expertise and years of experience to work for you. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686.