Montgomery County has a population of over 800,000 residents. Serving this populace is the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas. The court has several divisions. All matters of family law, including the request for Protection from Abuse (PFA) orders, are handled in the division of Domestic Relations.
There are several judges serving the Domestic Relations division of the court, and cases are heard according to each judge's preference. PFA orders, however, follow a relatively straightforward filing process regardless of which judge ends up adjudicating the hearing for the final PFA.
If you're dealing with a domestic abuse or violence issue, don't hesitate to call the Lento Law Firm at 888.535.3686 today.
Domestic Violence Definition
Domestic abuse, or domestic violence, is a broad term defined in the Protection from Abuse Act. It covers various criminal actions committed by one party against another. In simple terms, this means incidents where a person harms someone physically, or puts them in reasonable fear for their safety, and they're “household members” or in a qualifying domestic relationship. The harm must be intentional or reckless in some way to be considered domestic violence.
What Constitutes Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence or abuse can be physical, e.g., punching, shoving, kicking, or assault with a weapon. It can also be non-physical, such as stalking, or verbal, such as harassment or online stalking. It may also be sexual in nature.
Who Can Make a Domestic Violence Allegation?
In PA, you can only make a domestic violence allegation against household members, such as spouses, partners, or anyone with whom you have a biological child or a past intimate relationship.
Children can seek a remedy for domestic violence, but petitions must be filed by someone aged over 18 on their behalf.
The Arrest Process for Domestic Violence
If a victim calls the police over a domestic violence incident, officers may arrest the defendant without a warrant if there's corroborating evidence to show that an incident took place as described. It's best to cooperate with officers even if the accusations are unfounded – otherwise, further criminal charges may be filed.
Domestic Violence and Bail
If you're arrested for domestic violence or abuse, you may be offered bail. It just depends on the circumstances of the case and other relevant factors, such as your criminal record. Should the judge find that a defendant remains an immediate threat to the victim, bail may be refused or denied.
Protection from Abuse (PFA) Orders
The main civil remedy for domestic abuse and violence incidents is a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order. These are protective orders, or restraining orders, only available to people who have qualifying domestic relationships with their abuser.
PFA orders can be temporary or permanent. They can also be issued on an emergency basis out of hours. Temporary PFA orders are granted without the alleged abuser appearing in court. However, since the defendant has not had a chance to defend themselves, the PFA only lasts around 10 days until a final hearing date can be set.
At a final court hearing, the temporary PFA could be made permanent or dismissed in its entirety. If the temporary PFA order is made permanent, it lasts for up to three years at a time. Before the order expires, victims can seek a renewal. Final PFA orders can be renewed an unlimited number of times to keep a victim safe.
Filing for a PFA in Montgomery County
Court filings for a Protection from Abuse order can be done during the court's designated hours. These hours are Monday through Friday, during the hours of 8:30 am to 1:30 pm.
Victims of abuse must outline their case to a judge at a meeting during these times, and can have a PFA issued, should the judge approve of their claim. Montgomery County also offers an emergency hotline through the Montgomery County Women's Center. The Women's Shelter can walk victims of abuse seeking a PFA order through the process of obtaining an emergency PFA while the court is closed. Like any emergency PFA order, this order is only valid until the victim can obtain a full PFA order from a judge.
There are several PFA forms available. PFA orders can be issued for an adult's protection, or for the protection of a child involved in any domestic abuse event.
Scheduling the Final PFA Hearing
Once a PFA order is filed with the court, a date for a full hearing will be assigned. For the purposes of the filing, the victim will be known as the plaintiff, and the abuser will be known as the defendant. Once the initial filing is done and a judge has given approval, the plaintiff will then be able to request that the defendant be served with the temporary PFA order by law enforcement.
The Final PFA Hearing
At the final PFA hearing, both parties will be asked to meet with the judge to rule on the issue of whether the temporary PFA order should be made permanent.
The defendant will have a chance to defend themselves in court, and likewise, the plaintiff will have an opportunity to present their case as well. Both parties can present evidence in support of their case, such as medical records, phone records, photographs, and witness testimony.
The judge will either award the PFA or dismiss the case. Both parties have the right to appeal the outcome within 10 days of the decision by filing a Motion of Reconsideration with the court.
Why You Need an Attorney for a PFA Matter
During the final phase, it is of utmost importance to have an experienced Montgomery County PFA lawyer on your side. While PFA requests can be filed without the assistance of an attorney, the order is only temporary until the hearing and a final PFA carries significant consequences.
On top of this, PFA orders may affect standing custody and support orders, so it is important to consult with an attorney to find out what the outcomes may be. Whether you're appealing a judgment or filing for an order, the Lento Law Firm can help.
Consequences of Domestic Violence and Abuse Allegations
Every domestic abuse or violence incident has consequences for the alleged victim, the defendant, and sometimes the family. These consequences can be relatively minor, but they can also be long-lasting and legally significant.
If you're arrested for domestic violence or abuse, the arrest goes on your criminal record, and it can't be removed without an expungement. And if you're convicted of an offense related to domestic violence, the conviction will go on your record. A criminal record can affect everything from your personal relationships to your employment prospects.
If the defendant violates a PFA, they may be arrested and charged with criminal contempt. So, although a PFA is a civil matter, a violation is a criminal issue that can lead to up to 6 months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.
If you're subject to a PFA order, you will face various restrictions, such as the inability to return home, contact the victim, or even see your children.
You might be unable to attend significant family gatherings, such as funerals, if the victim will also be there. And if you work with the victim, you might be unable to return to your work unless your shift patterns can be changed or you're moved to a different part of the building.
If you're dealing with custody or divorce issues, then a domestic abuse finding against you might make it harder for you to obtain custody or get the settlement you want from divorce proceedings.
Retain a Family Law Attorney in Montgomery County
If you or a loved one is seeking a PFA order or engaged in other matters of family law in Pennsylvania, contact the Lento Law Firm today. Attorney Joseph Lento and his Family Law Team have helped numerous individuals successfully file for PFAs or challenge domestic violence accusations. We understand how to make a compelling case and protect your best interests, and we will do everything we can to secure the most favorable outcome.
As with any family law matter, domestic violence issues can be overwhelming. Don't struggle through the legal process alone – call the Lento Law Firm at 888.535.3686 or contact the Family Law Team online.