Domestic Violence in Chester County
Chester County is home to a population of over 500,000 residents. Overseeing legal matters in the county is the Chester County Court of Common Pleas. All matters of family law are handled in the court's Domestic Relations division. This includes disputes of domestic abuse and the issuance of Protection from Abuse orders, which we'll discuss below. The court accepts petitions from 8:30 am until 3:30 pm Monday through Friday and provides direction for the service of an emergency PFA order as well.
Domestic Violence in Chester County
PA has no specific crime of domestic violence (DV). However, domestic violence or abuse is loosely defined in the Protection from Abuse Act as intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury or leaving a person in reasonable threat of bodily harm.
This definition is extremely broad and covers a variety of behaviors. Anyone concerned for their personal safety should contact an attorney immediately for advice on how PA family and criminal laws may protect them.
Qualifying Domestic Relationships
You can't accuse someone of domestic violence or abuse unless you have what's known as a qualifying relationship with the alleged perpetrator. This means you must be what the Criminal Code defines as a “household member.”
Children can also seek PFA orders, although they need an adult to petition on their behalf.
When There's No Qualifying Relationship
If the court finds that the victim and alleged perpetrator are not household members, then they can't grant a PFA order. However, the victim may be able to file criminal charges if a crime has been committed, e.g., rape, assault, or battery.
Examples of Domestic Violence
Domestic violence or abuse can include violent acts such as slapping, kicking, punching, and attacking a victim with a weapon. However, it can also include non-violent but threatening behavior such as online harassment and stalking.
If you're unsure whether you have a domestic violence case, Joseph Lento and the Family Law Team can help.
Remedies for Domestic Violence in Chester County
There are a few protections available for DV victims in Chester County. Typically, they will either file for a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order or the alleged perpetrator will be arrested on criminal charges.
Protection From Abuse Orders
PFA orders are restraining orders, or documents issued by the court, which prevent alleged perpetrators of domestic violence from behaving in a certain way. They can be temporary or permanent (final), or granted on an emergency basis.
Normally, they will prevent the perpetrator from seeing or contacting the victim, but they can also compel them to do things like pay support and relinquish firearms.
If a police officer has probable cause to believe that an act of domestic violence took place, they may arrest that person without a warrant. The defendant may or may not be afforded bail, depending on the circumstances of the case.
Obtaining a Protection from Abuse Order in Chester County
A PFA order can grant a victim of abuse relief from their abuser, should they head into court and file the petition. The victim will be known as the petitioner, and the abuser will likely be referred to as the defendant throughout the petitioning process.
Chester County offers a simple way for victims of abuse to obtain a PFA order. The petitioning process takes about two hours, and the employees of the court will direct the petitioner through the overall process up until the point that it is signed by the judge and submitted to the county sheriff for service to the defendant.
If the petitioner seeks to obtain a PFA outside of the court's normal business hours, a Magisterial District Judge will be able to grant a temporary, emergency PFA that expires on the next business day. A local police department can assist petitioners with this while the court is closed.
Getting a Temporary PFA Order
When petitioning, the petitioner may meet with the judge, who will ask questions about the situation, and then decide. At this stage, if the judge approves, the PFA order is still temporary and will expire after a "final hearing" takes place.
Also, even if a temporary PFA order is refused by the judge, a final hearing will still be set. This will give the petitioner another chance to make a claim.
Getting a Final PFA Order
Final PFA hearings are typically set within 10 days of the issuance of the initial PFA order. Final hearings will have both the petitioner and the defendant present so that both sides may present and/or defend their respective claims. If awarded, final PFA orders last for three years but can be renewed.
Why You Need an Attorney for Final PFA Hearings
Filing a petition for a PFA order differs in one very significant way from a final hearing: PFA hearings are formal legal proceedings.
The outcome has significant implications for all parties involved. If you're the petitioner, then it's in your best interests to ensure that you present the strongest evidence to support your case. And if you're the defendant, you deserve a chance to defend yourself thoroughly against the accusations – especially if they're untrue or exaggerated.
Remember, a judge ultimately decides based on the evidence presented to them. Without legal representation, there's a chance you won't present the right evidence – or enough evidence – to make your case. On the other hand, an experienced domestic violence attorney knows how to present a substantiated and compelling case to give you the best chance of a successful outcome.
Retaining an attorney is in your best interests if you're dealing with court proceedings. Joseph Lento and his Family Law Team are waiting and ready to assist.
Consequences of Domestic Violence Allegations
Domestic violence allegations, even if they turn out to be unfounded, can wreak havoc on a family. While every situation is different, here are just some of the ways that domestic violence matters can affect you.
- Domestic violence accusations can make it harder for you to see your children or get custody of them.
- If you're served with a PFA order, you may be unable to return home if you share it with the victim – even to collect your belongings.
- If a property is in joint names, you will still be expected to pay the mortgage or rent if you can't live in the home due to a PFA order.
- Domestic violence charges can stop you from owning firearms or pursuing certain careers, e.g., the military or other careers where you carry weapons.
- If you're involved in divorce proceedings, domestic violence allegations may affect your settlement.
Domestic violence accusations can follow you for the rest of your life. Call Joseph Lento and his Family Law Team for legal advice on any domestic violence issue or related matters.
Impact of Domestic Violence Allegations on Your Permanent Record
As PFA orders are civil rather than criminal orders, they don't affect your permanent criminal record. However, they are recorded in a statewide police database. As a result, PFA orders are discoverable by, for example, the court and the public in some limited circumstances.
It's a criminal offenseto violate a PFA order. PFA order violations will be listed on your criminal record.
If you're arrested for DV or you're convicted of an offense such as stalking, assault, or sexual abuse, this will go on your record.
Appealing and Defending Domestic Violence Accusations
Both parties have the right to appeal PFA decisions. Appeals are not a chance to make your case over again, though. They're focused on very particular issues, such as errors in applying the law.
Either party has 10 days from the hearing date to file a Motion for Reconsideration with the judge who decided the case. You're essentially asking the judge to reconsider their decision, so you need specific legal grounds to make an appeal, e.g., the judge didn't apply the law correctly.
Alternatively, you can file a formal appeal with the PA Superior Court within 30 days of the decision. Again, you'll need specific grounds for an appeal.
In criminal cases, defendants found guilty of a crime can appeal the decision. It's possible to appeal both a civil order and a criminal conviction.
Every appeal is complex, and there are many procedural hurdles to overcome. Joseph Lento and the Family Law Team can help you through the process – do not attempt to handle such difficult matters alone. There's simply too much at stake for you.
Contact a Family Law Attorney in Chester County, PA
Domestic violence issues have far-reaching consequences for everyone involved. Whether you're the victim of domestic violence or defending allegations, you deserve compassionate representation to help you through this challenging time.
That's where the Lento Law Firm comes in. If you or a loved one is seeking a PFA order or engaged in other matters of family law in Chester County, contact attorney Joseph D. Lento and his Family Law Team today. Call on 888.535.3686 or complete the online contact form.