In November 2021, Jana Russo filed for a temporary protection-from-abuse (PFA) order against her estranged husband, David Russo, Greene County District Attorney. She alleges that Russo has a history of drinking heavily and becoming violent with her and their children. She further claims that the situation became so untenable she began taking the children to stay elsewhere on weekends for their own safety. District Attorney Russo disputes his estranged wife's accounts, alleging that she is using the PFA as leverage in their child custody battle.
Whatever the outcome of this case, there's no doubt that a PFA order in Pennsylvania can seriously impact a custody case. Let's take a look at how it works.
What Is a PFA Under Pennsylvania Law?
A PFA is an order intended to protect victims of domestic violence. Family court judges grant it to individuals requesting legal protection from abuse or threat of abuse from a family member, household member, or co-parent. The order demands that the alleged abuser stop the abuse, threat of abuse, stalking, or harassment of the individual who has filed the order. If the suspected abuser continues their actions, they can face serious legal consequences.
A PFA may be emergency, temporary ex parte, or final. An emergency PFA is one that the requesting person (plaintiff) requests through the local police department for immediate protection. It usually only lasts until the court can issue a temporary ex partePFA the next day. A temporary ex parte PFA is one that the court issues, lasting until a final PFA hearing can be scheduled, which is usually about ten days. The final PFA is one that the court issues after having heard the plaintiff and defendant's positions. This one can last up to three years.
How PFAs Impacts Child Custody
A PFA can impact a defendant's custody rights. If a plaintiff alleges that their children are in danger of being abused by the defendant, the PFA can extend to the children. A PFA order typically supersedes custody and visitations rights and arrangements, which means the defendant will not be allowed to see or visit their children while the PFA is in effect. The court will even report the PFA to the child's school so they will be aware of the situation and take steps to prevent the defendant from contacting the child.
If you are a defendant, you may challenge the PFA through the courts, but you will still be prohibited from seeing your child as long as it is in effect. If you violate the PFA's terms, a judge may find you in criminal contempt of court, and you may face up to six months in jail and pay a fine of as much as $1,000. Once the PFA expires, you may be entitled to see your children again. However, if you violated the PFA or a previous custody order, you might be denied custody.
PFA Family Law Attorney in Pennsylvania
PFA orders come with very serious consequences, particularly in child custody cases. If someone has filed a PFA against you, it's essential to have a skilled and knowledgeable Pennsylvania family lawyer who will fight fiercely for your rights. Give Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm a call. We stand ready to help you understand your rights and decide on the best course of action. Call us today at 888-535-3686.