A Protection from Abuse (PFA) order is a court protection designed to keep people safe from domestic abuse and violence. The courts take domestic violence and PFAs very seriously, so PFAs can only be dissolved (terminated) or changed by following certain procedures. With that in mind, here's a look at what happens when courts grant PFAs and how they might be terminated.
What Happens When the Courts Grant a PFA?
PFAs are effective from the moment they're awarded. So, once a defendant knows that there is a PFA against them, they must comply with the terms immediately or risk criminal charges for violating a PFA.
- If the court grants a temporary PFA, a hearing is scheduled for around ten days' time. The temporary order lasts until the hearing date, at which point it may be dismissed or converted to a final PFA.
- When the court issues a final PFA, the order lasts for at least three years unless it is dissolved or changed in some way.
As civil orders, PFAs won't appear on your criminal record or background check. However, they are discoverable by the public in certain circumstances.
A PFA violation is a criminal offense. A criminal contempt conviction can show up on background checks, which could affect a defendant's professional and academic prospects.
Joseph Lento can advise you further if PFA discoverability is a concern.
Can You Dissolve a PFA?
The short answer is yes. However, this doesn't mean a plaintiff can simply end a PFA or tell the defendant they don't need to comply with the order anymore. PFAs can only be dissolved or amended in one of the following ways.
- Dissolution: If a victim wishes to end a final PFA, they must petition the court to do so.
- Change: The victim can ask the court to modify the order to reflect a change of circumstances.
- Dismissal: If the petitioner fails to show they suffered abuse at the hands of someone they're in a domestic relationship with, then the court will dismiss the case rather than grant a final PFA.
Both the petitioner and the defendant can appeal a PFA decision if they consider it unfair or if they believe the judge failed to apply the law correctly. An experienced PFA attorney can represent you during the appeals process – contact Joseph Lento for assistance.
How Is a PFA Dissolved?
There are a few steps involved in dissolving a PFA. It's a formal process, and you should always seek an attorney's advice before filing for dissolution; however, here's an overview of what to expect.
Petitioning the Court
The petitioner must file a petition with the court to cancel or dissolve the PFA. You can find the relevant documents by attending your county courthouse. Once the paperwork is completed and filed, the court schedules a hearing before a judge. Both parties will be notified of this hearing date.
If you're the petitioner, an attorney can ensure you complete the required paperwork accurately, so there are no unnecessary delays or complications.
At the hearing, the judge will focus primarily on the petitioner's safety. They will not dissolve the PFA if they believe that:
- The defendant is a threat to the petitioner's safety
- The defendant pressured or coerced the petitioner into seeking a dissolution
The petitioner should be prepared to answer questions from the judge to help them reach a decision. The defendant should also hire an attorney who will represent their best interests during the hearing.
If the judge determines there is no coercion and the petitioner is safe, they will dissolve the PFA. Otherwise, the PFA will remain in place – the parties may have a right to appeal this decision.
Dissolving a PFA When There Are Criminal Charges
Dissolution is fairly straightforward when there are no criminal charges, and all the court must deal with is the civil PFA order. However, it could be more difficult to dissolve a PFA if there are criminal charges for domestic abuse allegations pending against the defendant.
- You may need to wait until the criminal case is completed before petitioning to dissolve a PFA.
- If the defendant is convicted of domestic abuse offenses, your options for dissolving a PFA may be more limited.
Joseph Lento can explain how criminal charges may impact the dissolution of a PFA, depending on the unique case facts – contact him to discuss the matter.
What Happens When a PFA Is Dissolved?
When a PFA is dissolved, it ceases to exist, and so it's no longer enforceable.
- The PFA will disappear from the Pennsylvania State Police registry. This means police officers won't be able to see the PFA on the database anymore.
- You are no longer required to abide by the order's terms since it's now dissolved.
- If the petitioner later decides they need a new PFA, they must begin the filing process again – starting with a temporary or emergency PFA, depending on the circumstances.
What if the Petitioner and Defendant Reconcile Without Dissolving the PFA?
It's not uncommon for a petitioner to get a PFA against the defendant, only for the parties to reconcile. However, a final PFA is a court order, meaning there are significant consequences if the defendant breaches the terms.
- Any PFA violation, even if the petitioner wants to reconcile, could result in criminal charges against the defendant.
- A criminal contempt charge for a PFA violation could result in up to 6 months and jail and up to $1,000 in fines.
You must dissolve a PFA before reconciling; otherwise, you face significant long-term consequences.
Contact the Lento Law Firm Now
If you're wondering how to change or dissolve a PFA, or you're looking for advice on how to challenge a PFA against you, the Lento Law Firm wants to help. Joseph Lento has the knowledge and experience to guide you through the court process, and he will do everything possible to help you secure a favorable outcome. Contact him on 888.535.3686 or complete the contact form to learn more.