Protection from Abuse (PFA) orders are civil orders which help to protect individuals from abusive or violent acts committed by family members, household members, and intimate partners. These orders typically last for at least three years, and they may be extended an unlimited number of times to keep victims safe.
However, PFAs are not always necessary, and in some cases, it's possible to have a PFA dismissed. While you should always seek legal advice when dealing with any PFA issues, here's a summary of how PFA dismissals work.
What Does a PFA Dismissal Mean?
A PFA will not be granted unless the petitioner (the victim) can show that they're in a qualifying domestic relationship with the accused and abuse occurred.
Under PA's Protection from Abuse Act, “qualifying domestic relationship” generally means people who are past or present intimate partners, spouses, relatives, or the biological parents of a child. “Abuse” is a broad term and essentially any act designed to cause bodily injury or place the victim in reasonable fear of bodily injury. The abuse may also be sexual in nature.
If the petitioner fails to meet these legal burdens of proof, then the court will dismiss their request for a PFA against the defendant.
How Are PFAs Dismissed?
There are three occasions when a PFA can be dismissed: after the temporary PFA hearing, after the final PFA hearing, or at a later court date.
After a Temporary PFA Hearing
To get a PFA, the petitioner must visit their local courthouse and complete the relevant paperwork. If the judge agrees that a PFA is necessary, they will award a “temporary” or “emergency” PFA, which persists for roughly ten days until the final hearing can take place.
It's not uncommon for judges to grant temporary PFAs without much evidence as they may believe it's the best way to protect the individual in the short term. However, the court may dismiss the application if the paperwork is incomplete or if the petitioner can't answer the judge's questions to their satisfaction.
After the Final PFA Hearing
It's more common for judges to dismiss PFAs at the final hearing rather than the temporary hearing. Why? Because, at the final hearing, the petitioner must prove based on the “preponderance of the evidence” that abuse occurred. This is higher than the standard of proof required at a temporary hearing, so it's sometimes more challenging for the petitioner to prove their case.
To obtain a final PFA, the petitioner must show they're in a qualifying domestic relationship, as mentioned earlier. They must also prove that the defendant committed an act of abuse against them. A petitioner may rely on evidence such as:
- Earlier domestic violence convictions
- Medical records, e.g., x-rays, er visits
- Police reports
- Witness statements from friends and family members
The defendant can also make their own arguments and challenge the petitioner's evidence. They may rely on, for example, their own witness statements and testimonies.
Unless the petitioner can prove that the act of abuse occurred and is likely to occur again, then the judge will dismiss the PFA. Given how much is at stake, whether you're the petitioner or the defendant, you should always have an experienced PFA attorney representing your best interests at a final PFA hearing.
At a Future Hearing
If the petitioner later files to extend the PFA or amend it in some way, then the defendant may consider seeking a dismissal against the further orders. If you're in this position, contact Joseph Lento at 888.535.3686.
What Happens if a PFA Is Dismissed?
If a PFA is dismissed or vacated, then it's no longer enforceable, and it will be removed from police databases. Any restrictions, such as those preventing a defendant from returning to the family home or seeing their children, come to an end.
To be clear, as it's a civil order, a PFA will not ever show up on criminal background checks unless the defendant violated the order while it was in place.
Can PFAs Be Canceled?
Yes – the petitioner can ask the court to cancel or “vacate” a PFA it has already granted. However, there's no guarantee a judge will cancel an order, as no PFA is awarded unless a judge is convinced it is necessary to protect the person from harm.
If you wish to vacate an existing PFA, an experienced attorney can help you.
Is it Possible to Request Another PFA After the First PFA Is Dismissed?
Yes. If the petitioner has fresh allegations of abuse and they believe they need a PFA for their own safety, they can seek a new order. However, there are some caveats to bear in mind.
- If a judge dismisses the petitioner's first request for a PFA, this will not affect the outcome of a new hearing – each petition is considered entirely on its own merits.
- Similarly, just because the courts granted a PFA against the defendant once does not mean they'll do so again. The court will only award a PFA if the petitioner can show that another incident occurred, and the order is essential to protect them from harm.
Retain a PFA Attorney Today
Anyone dealing with PFA issues deserves effective legal representation. As an experienced PFA attorney, Joseph Lento will work tirelessly to help you secure the best possible outcome in your case – call him today at 888.535.3686 to learn more or reach out online.