Dating violence is a serious problem in Pennsylvania and around the country. Although many people automatically think of domestic violence as abuse between a married or a cohabitating couple, one 2018 University of Pennsylvania study indicates that most violent incidents between intimate partners happen in dating relationships.
Pennsylvania's Protection from Abuse (PFA) Act helps protects victims of abuse, whether married, living together, dating, or recently broken up. Here's what you need to know about dating violence in Pennsylvania and how state law can protect the abused.
What is dating violence?
Dating violence occurs when one person in a romantic relationship uses coercive and abusive behavior to gain power over and control the other person in the relationship. Such abuse can be physical, emotional, or sexual. Physical violence may consist of slaps, punches, kicks, pinches, biting, shoving, restraining, or making any other purposeful, unwanted contact with another person that causes injury or pain. Emotional violence is occurring when a person has a pattern of screaming at, belittling, threatening, bullying, humiliating, stalking, or isolating their dating partner. Sexual abuse occurs when a dating partner forces another into a sexual act without their consent or engages in a sexual act with them when they are unable to consent.
How does the PFA Act help protect a victim from dating violence?
Under the PFA Act, victims of domestic abuse, including dating violence, may obtain a restraining order against their abuser. In Pennsylvania, this restraining order is known as a PFA order. An abuse victim can petition for a temporary PFA order at their local family courthouse or police station if the court is closed. The petition must detail current or past incidents of abuse and make a specific request for protection. If the judge is satisfied that abuse has likely occurred, they will issue a temporary PFA, which will stay in place until a full hearing on the matter is held.
What kind of protection does a temporary PFA order provide?
A temporary PFA order prohibits an alleged abuser (the respondent) from abusing, threatening, harassing, or approaching the plaintiff. It also forbids the respondent from contacting the plaintiff, whether in person, via telephone, email, texts, social media, or through family and friends. The order may revoke an existing custody arrangement and definitively requires the respondent to relinquish any firearms and ammunition in their possession to the local authorities. If the respondent fails to abide by any of these terms, they will be arrested, jailed, and fined for criminal contempt of court.
How long does the temporary PFA Order last?
This PFA remains in effect until the final hearing, which typically occurs within ten days. At the final hearing, the plaintiff and respondent present their sides of the story, along with any supporting evidence. However, the plaintiff has an obligation to prove the abuse. If the judge is convinced that domestic violence occurred, they will issue a final PFA Order.
What are the terms of a final PFA Order?
The Final PFA order continues the temporary PFA's terms. It may also order the respondent to pay for fees arising from the abuse, including medical or dental payments, costs to repair or replace damaged property, payments for lost earnings, or reasonable legal fees. A final PFA order lasts for three years, at which time another hearing will be held. The judge can renew the final order if the alleged abuser still presents a threat.
Talk to an Experienced Pennsylvania Family Law Attorney
PFA orders have long-lasting consequences for both victims of dating violence and the alleged abuser. If you seek a PFA or if someone has filed one against you, contact the skilled Pennsylvania family law attorney Joseph D. Lento. He has helped many people reach the best possible outcome in PFA situations and can help you too. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or schedule an appointment online.