A person suffering domestic violence in Pennsylvania may want to obtain a PFA order for their protection. A PFA is a court order that provides protection from someone who is a spouse, family member, household member, dating partner, or intimate partner. (The state's PFA Act does not extend to domestic violence by a roommate with whom the victim is not intimately involved, or by a stranger.) PFAs can be issued under most circumstances where an injury to a victim or the victim's children has occurred or might occur. They are also sometimes issued in connection with divorce and child custody proceedings where one or more persons in the case need protection from physical harm.
Applying for a PFA
You might pursue a PFA if you have been injured in a domestic violence incident, or if an injury is imminent or threatened. Your county will have a PFA office. They can assist you with filling out the required paperwork and filing a petition with the appropriate court. You will be required to give detailed information about why you need a PFA. However, the county office will not offer legal advice, which can leave you navigating these very difficult waters on your own. Most victims hire an attorney to assist them with going to court for a PFA. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has extensive experience assisting clients with obtaining PFAs. Call his office today at (888) 535-3686 and he will guide you through the entire PFA process.
Your Court Hearing
Once you file your petition, a hearing will be scheduled before a judge. The defendant will be served with a copy of the petition, usually within 24 hours, and is expected to appear for the hearing. The judge will decide whether you need a PFA at the hearing. The court will expect you to offer testimony explaining your circumstances and the reasons you believe you are in danger. You need to be able to testify that you have been injured, beaten, or in any way physically abused by the defendant. If you have not been injured, beaten, or abused, you will need to convince the court that you realistically fear violence is imminent.
In most cases, your petition to the court will also ask for a temporary PFA. This request enables a judge to provide immediate protection for the petitioner, even if the defendant has not yet been served with the petition. If granted, the temporary PFA is good only until a formal PFA hearing, usually within 10 days, where the defendant can appear and give another account of the situation. The judge will then either extend the PFA up to 36 months, or terminate it. While the PFA is in effect, the defendant is usually required to stay completely away from the victim. If the defendant violates the PFA, the defendant will suffer various punishments imposed by the court, and the PFA can be extended up to an additional 36 months.
What Does a PFA Do for You?
A PFA usually says that the individual named in the order cannot contact the person who requested it, and typically lists dos and don'ts for all parties. PFAs can require that an alleged abuser stop threatening, harassing, stalking, or assaulting their victim, and can include protection for the victim's children or other family members. Generally, a PFA will require that an alleged abuser stay away from the residence of the alleged victim or any other place frequented by the victim, such as a place of work.
Judges have wide latitude regarding what orders they'll include in a PFA. Depending on what specific protections from the abuser the victim asks for, the PFA might include the following orders:
- Preventing any kind of contact, including emails and phone texts
- Requiring counseling
- Granting spousal support or child support to the victim
- Requiring the defendant to relinquish all guns or other weapons
If a defendant feels that the PFA is unreasonable or too onerous, it is possible to request a hearing and ask the judge to modify the terms of the PFA. Moreover, it is also possible for the victim to file a motion to modify a PFA to relax contact prohibitions or other protective orders. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has extensive experience with domestic violence matters and can appear in court for you at every stage. Call his office today at (888) 535-3686 for the representation you need.
Obtaining Protection on Holidays, Weekends, and After-hours
Pennsylvania courts are closed on holidays, weekends, and after-hours. If someone needs immediate protection in an emergency situation and is unable to file for a PFA, they can obtain an Emergency Protection Order by calling 911. The operator will know which magisterial district judge is on-call and can provide the judge's telephone number. If the judge is convinced that the victim is in danger, they can issue an emergency order. The emergency order is only good until the court reopens. If a victim does not formally apply for a PFA when the court reopens, the emergency order expires.
Even though the timeline for turning an Emergency Protection Order into a PFA is very fast, you still have time to contact Joseph D. Lento for help, either through the firm's website or by calling (888) 535-3686.
If you leave your county, or even leave Pennsylvania, your PFA order is still valid. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), passed by Congress in 2022, requires all government entities across the nation to honor other states' protection orders. To prove that you are under a protective order, you should always have an official copy (with raised seal) of your order with you.
If you believe you are in danger and need a PFA order, the Lento Law Firm can help you get the protection you need. Their experience and expertise are incomparable. Call them today at 888-535-3686.