Chester County Local Rules for Protection from Abuse Cases in West Chester
The practice and procedure for Protection from Abuse (PFA) cases in Pennsylvania is governed by statutory Pennsylvania law. Specifically, the Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Act is the law that governs PFA cases in Pennsylvania. Chester County, as one of Pennsylvania's 67 counties, must comply with Pennsylvania PFA law. In addition, however, and also per Pennsylvania law, individual Pennsylvania counties including Chester County, can enact "Local Rules" to address aspects of how PFA cases are governed. As is the case in many Pennsylvania counties, Chester County has done as such, and these "Local Rules" are codified in the Chester County Rules of Civil Procedure (C.C.R.C.P.). There are six (6) Chester County Rules of Civil Procedure dealing with Protection from Abuse practice. C.C.R.C.P. 1901.2.A - 1905.A.
Both Pennsylvania PFA law and Pennsylvania county "Local Rules" change over time. In the case of Chester County, the Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Act was amended after the most recent amendments to Chester County's Rules of Civil Procedure. Ultimately, Chester County PFA practice and procedure is based upon a combination of Pennsylvania PFA law and Chester County Local Rules. Understanding both is critical to success whether a party is seeking a PFA order, or defending against a PFA petition.
The Assistant Family Court Administrator in West Chester, PA
The Protection from Abuse Act in Pennsylvania requires the applicable Family Court, and accordingly, the Chester County Family Court in PFA cases in Chester County, to "provide simplified forms and clerical assistance in English and Spanish to help with the writing and filing of the petition and for a protection order for an individual not represented by counsel." 23 Pa. C.S. § 6106(h)(1). Chester County Family Court is in full compliance with this statutory mandate in the person of Sara Moix, who is the Assistant Family Court Administrator for Chester County Family Court, located at 201 W. Market Street, West Chester, PA 19382. The phone number to Chester County Family Court 610-344-6405.
How does a plaintiff file for a PFA in Chester County?
Chester County Local Rules regarding the commencement of an Protection from Abuse action in Chester County provide that the petition shall be substantially in the form available from the Chester County Family Court Administrator. C.C.R.C.P. 1901.3A. The Local Rule also provides that all private attorney petitions “shall be reviewed and scheduled by the Chester County Family Court Administrator and filed with the Chester County Office of the Prothonotary prior to submission to the Family Court signing Judge for entry of a Temporary Ex Parte Protection Order.” The Chester County Prothonotary is located at 201 W. Market St # 1425, West Chester, PA 19380. The phone number to the Chester County Prothonotary is 610-344-6300.
The Pennsylvania PFA Act provides that "no plaintiff [the "filing party;" also referred to as the "petitioner"] seeking relief under the Protection from Abuse Act shall be charged any fees or costs associated with the filing, issuance, registration or service of a petition, motion, complaint, order or other filing. See 23 Pa.C.S. § 6106(b) and (g.1). Costs are assessed by the Court at a later stage of the proceedings against the defendant (also known as the "respondent"); in PFA cases in Chester County, the Chester County Court of Common Pleas is the authority that will assess costs against the PFA defendant. As with all Pennsylvania counties, personal service upon the PFA defendant is required to establish jurisdiction.
Local Rules requires that a PFA "cover sheet" be filed with the Chester County Prothonotary and served upon all other parties to the action. C.C.R.C.P. 205.2(b). A "Notice of Hearing" and "Order" (specific to Protection from Abuse actions) must also be attached to the PFA Petition.
Local Rules also require attorneys to file an "Entry of Appearance" with every initial pleading or initial filing in a case. C.C.R.C.P. 1012.1. A party's attorney should include their attorney identification number.
How are emergency/ex parte matters handled by Chester County Family Court?
The Pennsylvania PFA Act requires that PFA proceedings be commenced by filing a petition. 23 Pa. C.S. §6106(a). The Pennsylvania PFA Act requires a hearing within ten (10) business days of filing. 23 Pa. C.S. §6107(a). Secondarily, the PFA Act provides that the plaintiff may request immediate, temporary relief at the outset of the action if there exists "Immediate and present danger of abuse." 23 Pa. C.S. §6107(b). More often than not, Protection from Abuse actions begin with applications by the plaintiff for an immediate, temporary order.
Chester County Local Rules concern commencement of an Protection from Abuse action in Chester County and provide that the petition shall be substantially in the form available from the Chester County Family Court Administrator. C.C.R.C.P. 1901.3A. The Local Rule also provides that all private attorney petitions “shall be reviewed and scheduled by the [Chester County] Family Court Administrator and filed with the [Chester County] Office of the Prothonotary prior to submission to the [Chester County] Family Court signing Judge for entry of a Temporary Ex Parte Protection Order.” A temporary Protection from Abuse should be included in the initial PFA filing.
The Pennsylvania PFA Act states that if there is an allegation that there exists "immediate and present danger of abuse to the plaintiff or minor children, the Court shall conduct an ex parte proceeding." 23 P. S. §6107(b). In practice, the Pennsylvania Family Courts, Chester County Family Court included, will not necessarily conduct a "proceeding." Petitions should, therefore, include all facts necessary for the Judge to act on the strength of the petition alone. If the Pennsylvania Protection from Act was followed to the letter, the Court would, at least, be required to actually interview the petitioner or some knowledgeable witness "on the record." A petitioner's attorney should have their client available to speak with the Judge if requested.
Although the Court must conduct an ex parte proceeding, the Court is by no means required to enter an order, "ex parte" (the Latin legal term "for one party;" in PFA cases, granted on the request of and for the benefit of one party only), or for that matter, enter any temporary order at all. The Pennsylvania PFA Act provides that "the Court may enter such a temporary order as it deems necessary to protect the plaintiff or minor children when it finds they are in immediate and present danger of abuse." 23 Pa. C.S. § 6107(b)(2).
The Pennsylvania PFA Act does not take away the Court's prerogative to require that the respondent be notified for the purpose of hearing the respondent on the issue of whether to enter the requested temporary order. The Court may hear the respondent later on the same day that the application for emergency relief was submitted to the Court, on the following day, or on the day after, and so on, just so that the delay is not so long as to deprive the plaintiff of the right to a temporary order under appropriate circumstances as provided in the Act. The requirement that the case in chief be heard within ten (10) business days has bearing here.
Ancillary PFA Issues in Chester County - Custody, Support, et al.
Although the Pennsylvania PFA act clearly allows the inclusion of claims for support, the Court may decline to consider support matters raised in PFA petitions. Petitioners will be directed to the applicable Pennsylvania county's Domestic Relations Office to file a complaint; the Chester County Domestic Relations Office is located in the Chester County Family Court building at 201 W. Market St, West Chester, PA 19382. The phone number to Chester County's Domestic Relations Office is 610-344-6215.
If a temporary order of support is entered pursuant to a PFA, petitioners must file for support with the domestic relations office immediately. It should be noted, however, the Court is more likely to deal with child custody and visitation issues, in conjunction with an Protection from Abuse action.
From time to time, petitioners ask for relief in conjunction with an abuse action to which they are not entitled under Pennsylvania law. Although such claims are often rejected by the Court, the Court may make exceptions and bring pressure to bear on a respondent to return, for example, clothes, personal belongings, a car or its keys, if needed by the plaintiff. Unlike requested relief that is not covered by the Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Act, the Court is more likely to require a defendant to pay medical bills because such relief is as authorized by the Act. 23 Pa. C.S. § 6108(a)(5).
A PFA Order Was Issued in Chester County - What happens next?
According to Chester County Local Rules, copies of orders shall be filed by the plaintiff with the appropriate police department and the Chester County Police Radio Room. C.C.R.C.P. 1901.4.A. Many police departments in Chester County, for much of the day, can be reached only through the Chester County Police Radio Room which is located in the Chester County Government Services Center at 601 Westtown Road, West Chester, PA. The phone number to the Chester County Government Services Center is 610-692-5100. (Photocopies of certified PFA orders are considered duplicate originals and can be used by law enforcement officers as such.)
Chester County Local Rules also require that an "informational cover sheet" (also called the “data sheet”) must be attached to all PFA orders filed with the police. All PFA orders must also include expiration dates. Protection from Abuse orders in Pennsylvania can last for a maximum of three (3) years. Most often, PFA orders are issued for the maximum period of time by law, but variations are also possible; for example, two year (2) PFA orders or one (1) year PFA orders.
How is a PFA issued on weekends or after business hours in Chester County?
Chester County Local Rules provide for how a Protection from Abuse order can be obtained on weekends and after business hours. Specifically, after Chester County Family Court closes for the day and during the weekends, if emergencies arise, actions may be commenced pursuant to the Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Act by contacting a District Justice. C.C.R.C.P. 1901.2.A.(3) and 23 Pa. C.S. § 6110. The Chester County Police Radio Room, referenced above, should be contacted. A District Justice assigned to cover emergencies during off-hours will be contacted by the Police Radio Room Staff. Arrangements will be made by the District Justice for the petitioner to meet with him/her without delay. The available District Justice is not likely to be a District Justice from the district in which the petitioner lives. The available District Justice will be using his/her own courtroom, and the petitioner will have to go to the applicable District Court in Chester County.
This procedure is not used unless the petitioner also intends to request that the District Justice enter a temporary protection from abuse order. Such orders entered by District Justices are to be filed by the District Justices in the Chester County Prothonotary's Office on the next day that Chester County Family Court is in session. The Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Act then requires Chester County Family Court to schedule hearings. 23 Pa. C.S. § 6110(b). It is important for petitioners and petitioners' attorneys to realize that the overnight PFA orders issued by District Justices do not always get to the West Chester Courthouse when they should, nor do they cross the Family Court Administrator's desk with the regularity with which they are issued. Because of these potential issues, additional proceedings are not scheduled unless the Family Court Administrator is contacted by the petitioner or the petitioner's attorney or someone authorized by the Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Act to correspond with the Court. Accordingly, petitioners' attorneys should pursue such cases with the Chester County Family Court Administrator as soon as the West Chester Common Pleas Court resumes its next business day.
How is contempt of a PFA order handled in Chester County?
Chester County Local Rules outline how contempt of a PFA order is handled. C.C.R.C.P. 1901.5.A. The Local Rule contemplates that a person who violates a PFA order in Chester County will be arrested, brought before the applicable District Justice, arraigned, notified of his/her rights, and incarcerated or placed on bail. The forms related to indirect criminal contempt are set forth in the Rules. Chester County Police may verify the existence of the PFA order by phone or radio with the appropriate police department, the Chester County Police Radio Room, or Chester County Family Court, and upon verification, arrest a defendant for violation of a PFA order on information supplied by the victim or other witnesses. C.C.R.C.P. 1901.5.A.
According to the statute, there is no reason why a petitioner's attorney cannot file a complaint for contempt directly with the Chester County Family Court, or why a hearing date cannot be scheduled without an arrest being made. This is not the practice in Chester County however. If contempt is alleged, the matter is referred to a District Justice Office and an arrest warrant is issued. Moreover, a petitioner's attorney must obtain written permission from the Chester County District Attorney's Office to prosecute a contempt complaint. C.C.R.C.P. 1901.5.A.(i). It is critical that an attorney representing either the alleged victim or defendant in PFA contempt proceedings in Chester County understand the Local Rules. If a petition is filed alleging contempt of a Protection from Abuse order with respect to ancillary matters only, such as payment of medical bills, counsel fees, and the like, such a petition may be pursued by an attorney as a standard civil contempt without criminal implications.
The Assistant Family Court Administrator should be notified at least two (2) days prior to a PFA contempt hearing in Chester County to which an incarcerated respondent needs to be brought in from the Chester County Prison. Chester County Local Rules make it clear that violating a PFA is not taken lightly by Chester County Family Court.
If dismissed, can a PFA order be expunged in Chester County?
Chester County Local Rules provide that a Respondent may request expungement of a dismissed protection from abuse order, and may also request that weapons seized pursuant to the order be returned. C.C.R.C.P. 1901.7.A.
Chester County PFA Attorney | West Chester PFA Lawyer
Whether seeking a Protection from Abuse order in Chester County, or defending against allegations of domestic violence or spousal abuse, the stakes can be high. For a PFA plaintiff who is subject to potential or actual harm at the hands of an abuser, a final PFA order is needed to help ensure the plaintiff's safety. The plaintiff cannot risk obtaining a temporary Protection from Abuse order only to have it dismissed because they failed to meet their burden at a final hearing at Chester County Family Court.
On the other end of the battlefield is the PFA defendant, and the issuance of a Protection from Abuse order against a person can have serious negative consequences, both short and long-term. A temporary PFA can lead to a final PFA, and a final PFA can lead to further consequences yet. The potential of a PFA order resulting in criminal charges in Chester County is real.
Moreover, a PFA order in and of itself can jeopardize a person's employment, school, most basic rights, and the like. The stakes can be higher yet if a PFA defendant has to maintain a professional license or professional certification for work; as is the case with doctors, nurses, teachers, and so forth People who have to carry firearms for employment purposes also have to be extremely mindful as to the implications of having a final PFA issued against them; police officers, probation and parole officers, correctional officers, and other law enforcement agents, for example.
Ultimately, regardless of one's place in life, or the reasons why parties find themselves at Chester County Family Court, it is critical to take the proper steps to respond to and address a Protection from Abuse case, and an attorney familiar with Chester County PFA practice and procedure can help. If seeking or defending against a PFA in West Chester, contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today to learn how he can help.