Lehigh County, PA, is home to just over 382,000 residents. If any individual has a domestic violence concern, they may approach the Family Court Office at the Lehigh County Courthouse between 8am and 12:15pm for a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order. Anyone seeking a protective order after 12:15pm may do so, but it will only be issued on an emergency basis.
There are various remedies for domestic violence victims in Lehigh County, and the penalties for domestic violence can be severe. If you have a DV issue or a related family law concern, call the Lento Law Firm now at 888.535.3686.
Defining Domestic Violence
Domestic violence is defined in the Protection From Abuse Act as, essentially, any deliberate or reckless act which causes bodily harm, or causes reasonable fear of bodily harm, between individuals who have a certain domestic relationship.
The domestic relationships that qualify under PA's domestic violence laws are restricted to “household members.” Household members, as defined in the Code, include partners, ex-partners, spouses and ex-spouses, and anyone with whom you have a biological child in common. Roommates also count as household members.
Who Can't File Domestic Violence Allegations
Unless you're in an intimate relationship with someone like a friend, coworker, landlord, or neighbor, then you can't get DV remedies against them. You might, however, have other remedies available.
Protections for Domestic Violence in Lehigh County
Individuals can be arrested for domestic violence, and/or the victim can file for a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order against them.
There's no specific crime of domestic violence, but someone can be arrested for a criminal offense conducted in a domestic setting, e.g., assault. They will face misdemeanor or felony charges as appropriate.
The level of charges a defendant faces varies depending on the crime and whether there are aggravating factors. Attorney Joseph Lento and his Domestic Violence Team can explain what charges mean, what penalties may apply, and how you might defend the charges.
Civil Protection Orders
A PFA order is a unique type of order which protects someone from violent and/or threatening behavior at the hands of another household member. They can be issued on an emergency basis if there's an immediate threat and the courthouse is closed. The judge on duty will consider the facts and issue the order to protect the victim immediately.
However, PFAs are normally issued on a temporary basis first before a final hearing takes place before a judge. Temporary PFAs generally require less supporting evidence than final PFAs because the courts prioritize a victim's safety in the first instance. Final PFAs require a higher standard of proof (preponderance of the evidence) to give the defendant a fair opportunity to show why the order is unnecessary.
Arrests for Domestic Violence
Police can arrest a suspect if they have probable cause to believe the incident took place as alleged. If someone is arrested for domestic violence, they'll have an arraignment hearing within 72 hours of the arrest. If granted bail, the judge may issue a Stay Away Order (SRO) even if there's a PFA pending.
You should retain an attorney immediately if you're facing criminal charges.
How to Get a PFA Order in Lehigh County
The process is relatively straightforward; however, given the paperwork involved, you might feel more comfortable getting legal advice first.
At the outset, visit the Lehigh County Courthouse and ask for the requisite paperwork. Once this is completed, a judge reviews the case and either grants a temporary PFA for 10 days or dismisses the action. There's not much evidence required at this stage because judges typically err on the side of caution.
Serving a Temporary PFA Order
Temporary PFAs are effective immediately, so they must be served on the defendant. This usually falls on police officers, who will find the defendant and serve the papers. The defendant may need to immediately vacate their home or, if they're somewhere else, they usually can't return.
There are other consequences to the service of a temporary PFA, too. For example, if you own a gun, this may be taken from you pending the final PFA hearing. You will then need to go through a process to get your gun back (and potentially your license, depending on the case). And since you can't return home, you may be unable to get your belongings, such as cash, uniforms, valuables, or vital work materials.
Being served with a temporary PFA is a frightening experience. You must cooperate with law enforcement, but you should immediately call us at the Lento Law Firm for help. We will ensure you understand what happens next and represent you at the final PFA hearing.
The Final PFA Hearing
The final hearing is a chance for both parties to present their case and supporting evidence. The judge will decide, based on the preponderance of the evidence, whether to make a temporary PFA permanent (meaning it lasts for three years) or dismiss the case.
Both parties can appeal a decision by filing a Motion of Reconsideration with the courthouse within 10 days of the judgment. There's also the option to file directly with the PA Superior Court. You can do this within 30 days of the judge's decision.
Should you appeal a decision? It ultimately depends on the facts of the case. Although the right to appeal exists, an appeal is not an opportunity to revisit the whole case and argue it over again. Instead, appeals are restricted to points of law or procedural issues only. For example, you might appeal if the law has changed and the judge didn't consider the updated rules, or if they didn't apply existing laws correctly, or if it's somehow manifestly unfair not to consider the appeal.
Just as with the final PFA hearing, appeals require evidence. There are also deadlines to adhere to and documents to file. It's best to have an attorney to help with either type of appeal to ensure you don't miss deadlines or fill out paperwork incorrectly.
Consequences of a Domestic Violence Allegation
Every domestic violence allegation has the potential to seriously impact a person's life. The family unit is jeopardized, children may be unable to see or contact a parent, and relationships may never be quite the same again. Aside from the social consequences, though, there are significant legal consequences you should be aware of.
Domestic Violence and Family Law Matters
If you're accused of domestic violence, you may be unable to return to the family home until the PFA order expires. However, you may still be expected to pay rent or mortgage payments. You could also be ordered to pay child support.
Furthermore, a PFA could affect your chances of getting child custody, particularly if there's a custody issue ongoing at the time of the civil proceedings against you. You may also find that a PFA affects your divorce settlement or separation agreement, depending on the facts of your case.
Violating a PFA Order
PFAs are legally binding civil court orders. If a person violates a PFA, they may be arrested and charged with criminal contempt. Contempt charges carry a penalty of up to six months in jail and fines of up to $1,000, and the conviction goes on your permanent record. Further violations carry more serious penalties.
Why You Need a Family Law Attorney
Domestic violence matters are inherently sensitive and complex. If you're the victim, it's crucial that the judge understands your concerns and affords you the protections you need. And if you're the accused, you deserve every opportunity to defend yourself and demonstrate why you are not a threat or why the measures are disproportionate.
- Court procedures generally involve completing paperwork and meeting deadlines. An attorney will ensure you don't make procedural mistakes that could cost you the case.
- Family law matters are emotional. Your attorney will ensure that emotions do not cloud the issue, and they will keep you focused purely on the facts and moving your case forward.
- The consequences of a judgment going against you can be severe. Your attorney will use their experience to do everything possible to mitigate these consequences so you can move forward with your life.
Don't leave anything to chance. Retain our services if you're facing a domestic violence matter.
Retain the Services of the Lento Law Firm
Do you have a family law issue, or are you concerned about domestic violence? The Lento Law Firm can help. Attorney Joseph Lento and his Domestic Violence Team have the knowledge, experience, and dedication to help you through this challenging time, no matter whether you're the victim or defendant.
At the Lento Law Firm, we understand how much is at stake where domestic violence is concerned. We are committed to serving you and helping you move forward during this difficult period. To learn more about your options and for help building your case, call now at 888.535.3686 or tell us about your case online.