In Pennsylvania, the Protection from Abuse (PFA) order provides legal protection to victims of abuse. In some cases, a PFA can involve children, and it can become a custody issue. In Lancaster County and throughout Pennsylvania, the terms of a PFA can legally address custody. What happens to your custody rights if your child's other parent serves you with a PFA? Below are some common questions about PFAs and custody in Lancaster County.
What is a PFA in Lancaster County?
A Protection From Abuse order is a type of protection order in Pennsylvania. It allows one individual to request legal protection from another individual if there is abuse or the threat of abuse. The person filing the PFA is the plaintiff, and the person the PFA is filed against is the defendant. The plaintiff and defendant must have a specific type of relationship for the court to grant a PFA. In Lancaster County, you can only file a PFA against:
- A member of your family or household
- An intimate partner
- The other parent of your child
- Spouse or former spouse
A PFA has immediate impacts on the defendant, prohibiting them from contacting the plaintiff or entering the plaintiff's home, school, business, or place of employment. If the plaintiff and defendant live together, the defendant must leave the property immediately after receiving the PFA. The PFA can also require the defendant to reimburse the plaintiff for expenses incurred as part of the abuse or pay temporary child custody or spousal support to the plaintiff.
Does the court always grant a PFA?
If the requirements for a PFA are not met, the court can deny the request. The PFA only covers certain classes of abuse, and if the plaintiff alleges abuse that is not covered by the PFA, the PFA may not be granted. The plaintiff's relationship with the defendant must also meet PFA requirements.
Does a PFA restrict me from seeing my kids?
A PFA can include provisions that prohibit you from seeing or contacting your children. If the plaintiff asks for such restrictions, and the court finds that the defendant has abused the children in question, threatened to abuse the children, or has violated a custody order within the last two years, the PFA can prohibit the defendant from visiting their kids.
If your ex-spouse files a PFA against you to prevent you from seeing your children, unfortunately, you will have to stay away for the duration of the PFA. The PFA will be temporary at first, lasting 10 days, until the PFA hearing. At the PFA hearing, a judge will decide to dismiss the temporary PFA or issue a final PFA. A final PFA lasts three years.
What happens if I violate the PFA custody provisions in Lancaster County?
A PFA is not a criminal matter, it's a civil one. However, if you violate the provisions of the PFA, you may be held in criminal contempt of court, which carries a penalty of up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. The plaintiff can also file for civil contempt if they believe you've violated the PFA, and you could face six months' jail time. Also, know that if you have other court cases pending, your PFA violation can be used as evidence against you.
How do I challenge a PFA?
When you receive a PFA, you will also receive a hearing date scheduled for 10 days later. You won't have a chance to challenge the PFA or defend yourself until that hearing. In the intervening 10 days, you must stay away from the plaintiff and any children named in the PFA, if there are any. To substantially increase your chances of getting a favorable outcome at the PFA hearing, you should contact a family law attorney to represent you.
If the judge does enter a final PFA against you, you still have two options for challenging the PFA. You can either file a Motion for Reconsideration, which you must file within 10 days of the hearing, or you can file an appeal with the Superior Court of Pennsylvania within 30 days of the hearing.
Will the court notify my kid's school about the PFA?
The Lancaster Court of Common Pleas Family Division has a legal obligation to report the PFA to your child's school. The school must respect the PFA and actively prevent you from seeing your child if you attempt to do so. You cannot attend events such as programs, sports matches, recitals, or graduations, and the school cannot provide you with information about your child.
Can a PFA require child support payments?
A PFA can address custody and can require the defendant to pay child support. If the court finds that you have a duty to support the plaintiff or your child, you may be required to pay for medical care, healthcare coverage, unreimbursed medical expenses caused by abuse, or rent and mortgage payments.
Can a PFA override a custody order in Lancaster County?
The PFA can override a custody order if the court finds the defendant is likely to abuse the children in question or remove them from the jurisdiction before the final PFA hearing. Even if you had full custody prior to the PFA, the court can still take custody away in these circumstances. If the PFA against you does not name your children, then your custody rights remain intact.
Can children get PFAs?
Minors are not allowed to file for PFAs on their own. They must have a parent, family member, household member, or guardian file it for them. You can only file for a PFA for a minor against a family member, sexual or romantic partner, or household member. You will put your child's name instead of your own on the PFA petition, and you must accompany your child to the PFA hearing that takes place 10 days later.
If the PFA expires, can I see my kids again?
If the temporary PFA against you expires after the hearing and there is not a final PFA entered against you, then any no-contact orders that prevented you from seeing your children end. If you had custody prior to the PFA, the court restores your custody rights as well.
Can my child's other parent file a PFA during a custody proceeding?
Undergoing a custody proceeding does not prevent an individual from seeking a PFA. The court also cannot deny the petition because it would give one parent custody advantage. In some cases, a custody order may not take effect soon enough to provide a parent or child protection from abuse, so a PFA may necessary. An ongoing custody or divorce proceeding will also not prevent you from obtaining a PFA, as long as you provide adequate evidence.
Does a PFA grant custody in Lancaster County?
A PFA order can grant custody if there is not already a custody order in place. The court can deny custodial rights, grant partial custody, or grant unsupervised visitation to the defendant of a PFA if the defendant has abused or threatened to abuse the child named in the PFA or has abused the plaintiff or another child (who is not named in the PFA).
Am I allowed to file for custody if the PFA is in effect?
You can file for custody as long as it doesn't conflict with the PFA order. If the PFA protects your children, then the court cannot grant you custody while the PFA is in effect. If the PFA does not name your children, the court may still consider your PFA in the decision to grant you custody or not.
How do I file a PFA?
In Lancaster County, you can file a PFA with an attorney, advocate assistance at the Domestic Violence Legal Clinic, or the Bail Administration Office. Petitions are only accepted Monday – Friday between 8:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Before leaving the Bail Administration Office, you will also have to go before a judge for a protection petition hearing, before 3:00 p.m. on the same day you filed the petition. The Sheriff will then serve the petition to the defendant, and you will both have to attend the final hearing 10 days later.
The final PFA hearing will take place at the Lancaster County Courthouse in Lancaster City.
Questions About Custody and PFA Issues
PFA orders and custody issues may often overlap, but it's difficult to know how exactly one may affect the other. If you have questions about custody issues and PFAs, contact a family law attorney for assistance.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento of Lento Law Firm has a great deal of experience with the Lancaster Courts and can help you deal with the PFA and custody issues. Call the Firm today at 888-535-3686 to speak with an experienced family law attorney.