The Protection from Abuse order (PFA) is a kind of restraining order victims of domestic abuse in Pennsylvania can take out against their abuser. The restrictions of PFAs can extend far and last for years. A PFA may or may not name any children in its protective restrictions. It may have implications on custody. In any case, if you are a parent, a PFA can have serious implications for your relationship with your child. If you are a parent and have been served with a PFA by your child's parent, you will likely have many questions and concerns. Below is a Q&A related to custody and PFA orders in Chester County, Pennsylvania.
What is a PFA?
A PFA, or Protection from Abuse order, is a type of restraining order that gives legal protection from abuse or the threat of abuse. PFAs give one named individual protection and potentially their children protection against another named individual. They last up to three years and then expire, or the court can then renew them.
PFAs are for domestic relationships. You can only take out a PFA against a family member, intimate partner, co-parent, or member of your household.
A PFA is a court order with a series of legal restrictions. Its primary function is to prevent abuse, threats, harassment, or stalking, but the court can decide on other specifications at its discretion.
What restrictions are included in a PFA?
If you are served with a PFA, you will not be able to contact or go near anyone named in the order.
The conditions of a PFA in Chester, PA, often include the following:
- Prevent you from entering the home of the person who took the order out against you. If you share a home, you still cannot legally access it. This may effectively evict you from the house.
- Prevent you from going near the school, business, or place of employment of the person who took the order out against you.
- Require you to reimburse the person who took the order out on you for expenses incurred as part of the abuse.
- Require you to pay temporary child custody, spousal support, and other costs or expenses.
- Give temporary custody of children to your ex if they took the order out against you.
The process for getting a PFA is similar throughout Pennsylvania but can vary slightly by county. In Chester County, if your partner has requested a PFA against you, you will first be served with an emergency or temporary PFA. The order will state the date, time, and location of your final PFA hearing. At this hearing, the court will hear from both sides, and the judge may choose to enter a final PFA lasting up to three years.
PFA hearings take place at the Court of Common Pleas. You can find the Chester County Courthouse on 201 West Market Street in West Chester, PA.
Can I see my kids if I have been served a PFA?
Whether or not you can see your kids depends on the terms of the PFA.
If your children are named in the protective order, you will be restricted from seeing them so long as the PFA is in place.
If your ex is named on the protective order, but your children are not, you may be permitted to see your children under specific circumstances. The PFA may have awarded your ex sole custody and specified visiting arrangements, for example, supervised visitation enabled by a third party.
If the partner or family member who took out the PFA against you is not related to your children, then the PFA should not prevent you from seeing your kids.
Can my ex get a PFA to block me from seeing my kids?
If your ex requests a PFA against you, they can ask for restrictions on contacting or visiting any children you have together. The court will not restrict contact automatically. The court will consider whether you have abused the children in the past, have threatened to abuse them, or otherwise pose a risk to them. The court will also consider your ex's request to limit contact in light of any past custody violations. Unfortunately, if the court accepts your ex's request and places restrictions on contact with your children in the PFA, you must comply. If this is the case, you would be violating the PFA to see your children. Violating a PFA is a criminal matter. Violations come with serious penalties and can harm your chances of seeing your children in the future. If you wish to contest the court's order, you must go down the legal route.
What happens if I violate the custody provision of a PFA order in Chester County?
If you violate any part of your PFA, the police could be called, and you could be held in contempt of court. The criminal penalties for this could be up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. As well as possible criminal penalties, the other side could also file a petition for civil contempt. If you have been convicted of violating a PFA, there could be even more long-term consequences. A PFA violation could count against you in a pending or future family court case. When the PFA reaches expiry, the violation might persuade a judge to extend the order.
Does my kid's school know about the PFA against me?
If your child is named in the order, yes. If your ex has taken out a PFA against you and your children are specifically protected under this same order, your ex will be advised to provide a copy of the PFA to the children's school or daycare center. The school will have to uphold any contact restrictions detailed in the order. Your ex also may have requested specific additional protections prohibiting you from contact or involvement with your child's school.
Can I challenge a PFA so I can see my children again?
Yes, you can challenge a PFA. Typically you will first be given a temporary PFA, lasting the ten-day interim before the hearing at Chester County Courthouse. You must comply with restrictions, including staying away from your children at this time if specified. At this hearing, you will have a chance to defend yourself. If, at this hearing, the judge finalizes an unfavorable PFA against you, you can file a motion for reconsideration or appeal the decision. In either case, hiring a family law attorney will significantly increase your chances of a favorable outcome.
Does a PFA override a child custody order?
Yes, but not always. A PFA can override a pre-existing custody order and specify new custody and visitation arrangements. However, if your children are not named in the protection order, the court cannot revoke your custody rights unless it finds that the children are at risk of abuse.
PFAs should only take custody away from a parent if the other parent and court fear the child is in danger. However, sometimes when the parent's relationship has become particularly bad, a parent might use a PFA opportunistically to obtain temporary custody of their children. If you fear your ex has used a PFA as a shortcut to take your custody or visitation rights away, bypassing the proper custody process in Chester County Family Court, you should secure good legal advice straight away.
Do I have to pay child support if I'm served with a PFA?
Possibly yes, if you already pay child support, a PFA will not free you from your existing financial obligations. A PFA can also introduce new or more extensive financial commitments.
Under the terms of the PFA, the court may order you to pay for health coverage or make rent or mortgage payments, even though the PFA may evict you from your home. The court might also order reimbursement for any abuse-related costs or order you to pay the other side's legal fees.
Your ex will have to file to enforce any financial support provisions on time, or this part of the PFA requiring you to pay financial support will become void.
Can I get child custody rights back after a PFA expires?
Yes, once a PFA expires, there is nothing stopping you from successfully regaining custody. The restrictions of the PFA bind you up to the date of its expiry. It is important not to violate the PFA by trying to make contact too early, even in good faith. If your ex is building a case for the court to renew the order for another three years, any kind of violation can harm you. If the PFA had disrupted pre-existing custody and visitation arrangements, you would likely have to re-negotiate custody and visitation arrangements once the order expires. The expired PFA will not necessarily bar you from regaining custody, though any perceived danger to the children will.
Can I file a PFA during a custody proceeding?
Yes, if you are in the middle of custody proceedings with Chester County, you can file a PFA against the other parent if there's been abuse or risk of imminent abuse. A custody order may not provide the protection you and your children need, so a PFA could be necessary. Also, the court cannot deny the PFA order because it would give one parent custody advantage. If you petition for a PFA and provide adequate evidence for it, your ongoing custody or divorce proceeding shouldn’t affect it.
Can a PFA grant custody if there's no pre-existing custody order?
Yes, a PFA can set forth custody arrangements if there are none in place. The terms of the PFA can deny your custodial rights and grant temporary custody to your ex if the court finds your children to be in any way at risk. The court will consider the circumstances and may restrict or prohibit custody and visitation. The PFA may also specify provisions for partial custody or supervised visitation. Even if you cannot see or contact the other parent, the court could make a third party responsible for facilitating supervised visitation. Alternatively, the court might permit visitation in a secure facility.
Can I file for custody if I'm subject to a PFA order?
Yes, you can file for custody as long as it does not conflict with your PFA order. If your children are protected under the PFA, then a custody court would not be able to grant you custody, as that would violate the PFA.
Be aware that if you are filing for custody, the Chester County Family Court will take past and present abuse allegations into account when deciding on what is in the child's best interests.
If you have further questions about PFAs and custody, you should contact an experienced Family Law attorney to help you. Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm help parents grappling with PFAs and family matters all over Pennsylvania. To schedule a consultation, call us today at 888-535-3686.