A “final” Protection from Abuse (PFA) order protects abuse victims by preventing a certain individual from approaching them or behaving in a particular way. Here's an overview of how final PFAs work and how they can be appealed.
What Is a Final PFA?
There are, broadly, three types of PFAs in Pennsylvania: emergency, temporary, and final PFAs. Final PFAs are granted after a special court hearing, and they give the petitioner longer-lasting protection against the defendant.
When Are Final PFAs Issued?
Final PFAs can normally only be issued after a hearing involving both parties before a judge. Prior to the hearing date, the defendant may be subject to a temporary or emergency PFA designed to protect the petitioner in the interim period between filing for a PFA and the hearing date (normally around ten days).
What Is the Standard of Proof for Final PFAs?
At the final PFA hearing, the petitioner must show that, based on the “preponderance of the evidence,” the defendant abused them in some way. “Preponderance of the evidence” means the petitioner only needs to show that, based on the evidence available, it's more likely than not that abuse took place.
What Happens When a Final PFA Is Issued?
If the judge grants a final PFA order, it contains various restrictions to stop the defendant from behaving in a certain way. They may be prevented from:
- Contacting the petitioner
- Being within a certain physical proximity to the petitioner
- Entering or returning to the family home
- Owning a firearm
- Obtaining custody of their children
They may also be forced to make certain payments, such as rent or mortgage payments, and cover legal fees.
What Are the Consequences of a Final PFA?
Final PFAs have serious consequences for those accused of domestic abuse.
- A PFA could prevent you from applying for the job you want or joining an academic program.
- Final PFAs can stop you from seeing your children or visiting family.
- You may be unable to return to your own home if the victim lives there, even if you own the property.
- A final PFA could mean you lose gun ownership rights.
- Violating a final PFA order is a criminal offense, and the penalties can be significant.
Although a final PFA is a civil rather than criminal order, the consequences may be severe. Given how much is at stake, you should retain a PFA attorney immediately if you're worried that someone might file for a PFA against you.
Do Final PFAs Appear on Criminal Background Checks?
Since final PFAs are civil orders, they don't appear on criminal records or during routine background checks. However, they do appear in the issuing court's case files and a statewide database available to law enforcement, so they're discoverable by the public in some circumstances.
A criminal contempt conviction resulting from a PFA violation will appear during a criminal background check, which can have significant consequences for the individual.
Can Final PFAs be Extended?
A final PFA lasts for up to three years, but it can be extended or renewed if there's evidence that the defendant is still a threat. Final PFAs can be renewed multiple times, so there's no guarantee the order will ever be lifted.
If you're facing a PFA extension and you're worried about how it might affect you, contact Joseph Lento on 888.535.3686 for advice.
Can Either Party Appeal a Final PFA?
You can file an appeal, known as a “Motion of Reconsideration,” within ten days of the judge awarding or denying a final PFA.
- You must be able to show that the judge made an error, e.g., they applied the law wrongly, or there's new evidence available that affects the decision.
- If your appeal is unsuccessful, you can file a further appeal with the Superior Court.
As an experienced PFA attorney, Joseph Lento can advise you on how the appeals process works and what arguments may be applicable in your case.
Is it Possible to Cancel a Final PFA in Pennsylvania?
Yes, petitioners can file to amend, cancel, or “vacate” final PFAs early if, for example, they believe they're safe and the defendant is no longer a threat to them.
However, vacating a PFA is not a decision to make lightly, and there's no guarantee the judge will agree to cancel a court order. Final PFAs exist to keep abuse victims safe, and so a judge will only end the order if they're convinced it's truly what the petitioner wants and they are not under any duress or pressure.
It's crucial to remember that, even if a petitioner files to cancel a final PFA, the order remains in force in its entirety unless a judge agrees to end or change the order.
What Happens if Someone Violates a Final PFA?
You could face serious short and long-term consequences if you violate a final PFA.
- PFA violations may be considered contempt of court – a misdemeanor offense carrying penalties of up to six months in jail and $1000 in fines.
- A criminal contempt charge on your record could make it harder for you to apply for academic programs or pursue a professional career.
- If you violate a final PFA, the petitioner may ask the court to extend the order.
- Any PFA violation, however “minor,” could jeopardize other criminal or civil cases against you, as it suggests you are prepared to ignore the terms of court orders.
How the Lento Law Firm Can Help
If you're worried someone may file a PFA against you, or if you believe you're at risk and you need a PFA, then the Lento Law Firm can help. Joseph Lento is a highly experienced attorney who has helped numerous individuals get the support they need – to find out what options are open to you, contact him now at 888.535.3686 or leave him a message online.