Victims of domestic violence are protected under Pennsylvania's Protection From Abuse act. This act sets up a system across the entire state dedicated to aid victims through a number of legal services. These services are meant to be ready and easy to use for those who have little to no experience in the courtroom. Domestic violence is a very emotional and divisive issue in many relationships across the country. These matters are of particular importance when they are brought into the courtroom.
What Is Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence is a blanket term for violence or abuse coming from any "household member." This particularly extends to couples and their children, however, a person does not necessarily need to be living in the same place as another person to be considered a "household member." Household members include any immediate or extended family, current or former spouses and sexual partners, or someone that the victim has a child with. The Protection From Abuse act applies to acts of violence from any of the above groups.
Domestic violence or abuse refers to any of the following acts when done by a household member:
- Bodily injury or harm, battery
- Assault, direct threats or fear of bodily injury or harm
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Stalking and harassment
A Protection From Abuse order, or "PFA order," is exactly what it sounds like. The order is similar to a restraining order, though it is applied directly to cases of domestic violence, and comes in several forms. In general, a PFA order is a legal document that restricts the abuser's access and ability to contact the victims. The abuser is not allowed to be within proximity of the victim's home, work, or school, and must surrender all firearms to their local police station. PFA violators will be arrested and prosecuted as crimes.
How Do I Request A PFA Order?
A PFA can be requested from the court if a person fears or is undergoing abuse from a household member. For persons over the age of 18, a PFA request can be filed at the local court. PFA orders protect the victim and any family members from abuse. For minors, a parent or guardian will need to fill out a request for a PFA order on their behalf.
There are a few different types of PFA orders that serve different purposes and have different levels of urgency involved. PFA orders can be issued in emergencies, as a temporary order, or in some cases, they may become permanent.
An emergency PFA is issued when a situation arises outside of the court's business hours. Normally a PFA order is requested at a courthouse, however, if domestic violence or fear of domestic violence occurs on a weekend or holiday, and immediate action is necessary, an emergency PFA can be requested. This can be done by either contacting the police or emergency services, also, many courts have dedicated hotlines for emergency PFA requests. If the judge feels that a person is in immediate danger, an emergency PFA will be issued and will be upheld until the next available business day for the case to be heard by a judge, or until the victim can actually get in front of a judge.
A temporary PFA, or "Ex Parte" PFA, is a temporary PFA placed. These orders can be requested and placed without the abusers in court to defend themselves against the allegations. Temporary PFA orders will normally last until a hearing for a permanent PFA can be held. This can take several business days.
A permanent PFA order, or "final" PFA, is an official PFA order that can last for however long the court deems necessary. In most cases, these orders can last up to three years. Permanent PFA orders will be issued after a hearing where both abuser and victim are able to present their cases to the judge handling the case. The judge will hear out both sides and make the determination on whether or not the PFA will be granted, and if so how long the PFA will last.
Can PFA Orders Affect My Divorce or Custody Arrangements?
Domestic violence issues almost always make their way into other matters of Family Law. Actions of abusers and victims will be weighed out in nearly all matters of custody, support, and divorce. For instance, for individuals in a custody battle, domestic violence allegations can affect whether or not a parent gets custody at all. Or, if the domestic violence incident occurs with a standing custody agreement in place, the victim may be able to request a change in the order to limit interaction with the abuser. The judge will consider currently standing custody agreements when determining a PFA, however, the purpose of a PFA is to protect the victim from the abuser. Because of this PFA orders can sometimes affect custody arrangements.
In a divorce, particularly a fault-divorce situation, domestic violence can be used as evidence to show that the marriage has been irreparably broken. Acts of domestic violence and other criminal histories are more likely to affect custody, rather than support, however, depending on the circumstances, they may come into consideration when determining these items.
Pennsylvania Domestic Violence Attorney
Domestic violence remains a very serious issue that affects residents all over the country. Although Pennsylvania has made Protection From Abuse orders readily available in emergencies, victims must still prove their case in court in order to make a PFA permanent. If you or a loved one is seeking a PFA or has questions about how a PFA may affect any standing Family Law arrangements, contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today.