Bucks County is home to over 600,000 residents. The Bucks County Court of Common Pleas serves this population for all legal matters. Matters of family law are resolved in the court's division of Domestic Relations. This includes the filing and enforcement of Protection from Abuse (PFA) orders under the Protection from Abuse Act.
The court attempts to retain a relatively simple process for filing and, eventually, finalizing PFA orders. Bucks County utilizes a process involving a few steps to reach the final point – call the Lento Law Firm now to discuss filing or defending a PFA in Bucks County.
What Is Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence is an umbrella term for several acts committed against household members, people who you have an intimate relationship with, or those with whom you have a child in common.
Examples of Domestic Violence
Under Title 23 of the PA Criminal Code (the Protection from Abuse Act), domestic violence includes, but is not limited to:
- Deliberately or recklessly causing bodily harm, e.g., assault, rape
- False imprisonment.
- Placing someone in reasonable fear for their personal safety.
- Sexual abuse and child abuse.
- Patterns of behavior that place someone in reasonable fear of bodily harm.
Domestic violence, then, includes acts such as kicking, punching, and shoving, but also incidents where there's no physical contact, such as stalking or harassment.
Who Can Make Domestic Abuse Allegations?
You can only bring DV allegations if you have a qualifying relationship with the perpetrator, e.g., you're an ex-partner, current spouse, or roommate. If you're concerned for your safety and don't have a qualifying relationship, other remedies may be more appropriate.
What Protections Are Available for Domestic Violence Victims?
The perpetrator may be arrested and held in custody, depending on the nature of the incident. However, the most common protection for DV victims is a PFA. PFAs are civil court orders designed to protect victims from their abusers. They're normally issued on a temporary basis to give the victim immediate protection before a final hearing can be held where the defendant can explain their side of the story.
Filing for a PFA Order in Bucks County
The process for filing for a Protection from Abuse Order in Bucks County follows a few specific steps. The initial filing can be done Pro Se, meaning without a lawyer. The only thing the filing requires is that a person goes to the court during the court's regular business hours and fills out a request to petition the court for a Protection From Abuse order. When filing, the victim of the abuse will be known as the plaintiff, while the alleged abuser will be known as the defendant.
Once this petition is filed, a judge can approve the filing. After the approval, the defendant will be served with the order. Violations of the order will be prosecuted by the court. Judges will likely order a "temporary order," which will stand in the meantime while the plaintiff and defendant await the time for a hearing. If a victim of abuse needs a PFA order while the court is not in session or not during normal business hours, Bucks County allows for the filing of an emergency PFA order. An emergency PFA order will usually stand until the next available business day, at which point the plaintiff should return to court to obtain a temporary PFA and a date for a hearing to make it a permanent PFA. Hearings for the finalization of a PFA order will take place at the court in front of a judge. Temporary orders exist to ensure nothing can happen in the meantime while the parties await the date of the hearing.
The Final PFA Hearing
When it comes time to have a hearing for a permanent PFA order, it is best to enlist the services of an attorney, whether one is the plaintiff or defendant in the PFA action. While initial PFA orders can be filed with relative ease, the steps following often require legal counsel, and a party in a PFA will be best served when represented by an experienced Bucks County PFA attorney.
Defending Domestic Abuse Allegations
Hearings in front of a judge will rely on evidence, testimony, and proper argument, and a lawyer who knows the ins and outs of Family Court can strongly influence a person's case, especially in a PFA order hearing.
Violating a PFA Order
Violating a PFA order means breaching the terms of a formal court order. As such, it is punishable by law.
In Bucks County, a PFA violation is a criminal offense. You could face fines of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail for a PFA violation. You may face additional charges, too, depending on what happened.
Does a PFA Order Mean Criminal Charges?
If the courts grant the order, this is a civil rather than criminal order. It's no less significant than a criminal order, though, and those subject to a PFA must follow the restrictions closely.
Violating a PFA order may lead to criminal charges for contempt. If you're subject to a PFA order, check with your attorney to ensure you understand the rules imposed upon you.
Consequences of Domestic Abuse Allegations
Domestic abuse allegations, even if they don't result in criminal charges, can have severe and far-reaching consequences.
Domestic Violence and Custody Arrangements
PFAs protect victims from their abusers. In some cases, this could mean that a PFA order affects custody agreements. Depending on the case, the perpetrator may also lose custody of their children, or lose access rights, if there are domestic violence allegations.
Domestic Violence and Divorce Settlements
In PA, marital assets must be divided equitably – not necessarily equally. It may be possible for a victim to use a PFA order or domestic violence allegations as grounds to seek a higher settlement based on the abuse they've experienced.
Domestic Violence and Employment Prospects
Although PFA orders do not appear on a defendant's criminal record, they do enter a police database. In some (albeit limited) circumstances, the public may obtain access to these records. As a result, the defendant may find it harder to get certain jobs, and they may be unable to pursue certain careers, e.g., jobs where you carry a firearm.
Other Consequences of PFA Orders and Domestic Violence Allegations
If you're dealing with a PFA order or there are domestic violence allegations against you, other consequences you might face include:
- You may be unable to return home if you share it with the victim.
- Firearms will normally be removed while investigations are underway. Depending on the outcome of your case, they may not be returned to you.
- You may be expected to continue making, e.g., rent or mortgage payments on a joint property even if you can't live there anymore.
- It's possible that relationships with family and friends may change after domestic violence allegations are made – even if they turn out to be untrue.
How to Appeal a PFA Order in Bucks County
You can appeal a final PFA order granted against you in Bucks County. The appeal should be filed within 30 days of the judge's decision.
For the court to reconsider its decision, you must show that the judge interpreted the law incorrectly or that it's manifestly unfair or unjust not toconsider your appeal.
How to Appeal Criminal Charges
If you're convicted of a criminal offense related to domestic violence, you have the right to appeal the decision. You must file a motion to appeal within 30 days of the court's judgment. The appeal should be filed with the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County.
Appeals are, by their nature, very complex. There are deadlines to adhere to, and you must make your case based on specific grounds, e.g., the judge made a procedural error. Call the Lento Law Firm for help appealing a conviction related to PFA orders, domestic violence, or abuse.
How a Bucks County Domestic Violence Attorney Can Help
If you or a loved one is seeking a PFA order or engaged in other matters of family law in Bucks County, the Lento Law Firm can help. Joseph Lento and his Domestic Violence Team have helped numerous individuals handle PFAs and DV charges, and we understand how to guide you through this challenging time.
You do not need to face domestic violence issues – or any other family law matter – alone. Instead, call the Lento Law Firm at 888.535.3686 or leave us a message online to discuss your concerns.