In Pennsylvania, a restraining order is known as a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA). The purpose of a PFA is to provide protection for victims of actual or threatened violence or abuse. Courts will issue both temporary and final orders, the latter of which can be issued for up to three years.
Pennsylvania's PFA Act lays out what relationships and in what circumstances someone may seek a PFA. To show you have grounds for a PFA, you must fall into one of the listed relationship categories and detail the abuse, either actual or threatened, you experienced.
Who Can Apply for a PFA
In Pennsylvania, you can only apply for a PFA for certain family and intimate relationships. The PFA Act lists the following relationships as covered by the law:
- Current or former spouses, including same-sex relationships
- Domestic partners
- Current and former sexual partners, including dating
- Individuals who live together and are in an intimate and/or sexual relationship
- Family members of the above, who reside in the same domicile, such as minor children of one member of an intimate relationship
- Blood relatives who do not reside together
- Those related by marriage, such as in-laws, stepparents, or siblings
If the individual who needs a PFA is under the age of 18, a parent or guardian will need to file on behalf of the child.
For all other relationships, Pennsylvania has other protection orders. Even if the involved individuals meet the relationship requirement, a court may not issue a PFA. For example, when two siblings owned a business together, and one sought a PFA against the other, a court found that their business relationship, not their familial connection, was at the center of the dispute. The court denied the PFA.
Covered Behavior and Actions
You can file a PFA because of abuse or violent actions that have already occurred or the threat of abuse or violence. The behavior or actions at the center of a PFA do not have to be physical or result in a physical injury.
Physical actions that are either knowing or reckless fall under the Act's provisions. The following attempted or threatened actions may be sufficient grounds for a PFA:
- Bodily injury
- Sexual assault
- Indecent assault
- Child abuse
These physical actions may be accompanied by a psychological or intellectual component. For example, a court granted a woman a PFA after her husband required her to submit to sex in order to provide food for her and their children.
When you have an actual physical injury, you want to provide the court with evidence. Photographs, hospital records, witness statements: All may be used to prove the alleged abuse occurred.
A court may also consider the physical characteristics of the individuals. In one case, a court determined that the physical characteristics of two individuals were relevant. The victim was 5'3” and weighed approximately 125 pounds, whereas her brother was 6'4” and weighed 240 pounds.
Moreover, abuse does not need to meet any criminal standards to be sufficient grounds for a PFA. While some situations may rise to the level of a crime, that is not a requirement for a PFA. PFAs also use a lower standard of proof: “preponderance of the evidence” rather than “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
That someone has a reasonable fear of future abuse or physical violence occurring is sufficient grounds for a PFA. You do not need to wait for an injury or actual violence to occur before filing for a PFA. A threat alone can be sufficient if a reasonable person would believe it is real and likely to result in injury or some other harm.
Examples of behavior that can lead to reasonable fear:
- Restricting a victim's movement paired with either previous or current threats of violence
- Taking someone's keys, wallet, or other items that would limit their ability to escape
- Driving recklessly, depending on the context and overall situation
- A threat to kill a person, even if not accompanied by any real or threatened violence
- Repeated phone calls or other communications that threaten violence or death against an individual or members of their family
The PFA Act does not have a time limit for petitioning for a PFA. That an event or events occurred months before should not prevent you from filing for a PFA. In one case, a court granted a woman a PFA against her brother-in-law eight months after he attacked her.
Pennsylvania recognizes the complicated nature of domestic situations and that immediately filing for a PFA may not be possible. You may also be dealing with a continual threat of violence or attempting to solve the problem before involving the courts and law enforcement. Whatever your reasons, if the events in question occurred months or weeks before, an experienced legal team knows how to help you explain any delays and why a PFA is still needed.
Threats or abuse do not have to occur in Pennsylvania. Neither does the abuser need to be a resident of the state. You will not hurt your case if you leave the state for your own safety or to move from a shared residence.
While some connection must exist between Pennsylvania and the people and events, the courts have interpreted the law to be flexible. An experienced legal team can establish Pennsylvania's jurisdiction over a case, especially if some of the events and behavior occurred out of state or if one of the involved individuals is not a resident.
In addition, as part of the Violence Against Women Act, when a PFA or similar protective order meets federal guidelines, states must enforce those issued by other states and territories. In other words, a PFA issued in Pennsylvania should be enforced in Maryland and vice versa.
The Lento Law Firm Can Help You
Courts will look at the overall situation in determining whether to file a PFA. While individual behaviors may not be sufficient grounds, when considered with other events and behaviors, they may establish a pattern of intimidating, threatening, or violent behavior.
If you've been abused or believe you are in danger of physical violence, you may want to petition for a PFA. If you believe an intimate partner may try to get a PFA against you, you need to be proactive because of the impact it can have on your life. The Lento Law Firm can help you get the protection you need. Call us today at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.