Although Delaware County does not have local "practice" rules with regards to Protection from Abuse cases, the Pennsylvania Rules governing PFA actions are strictly adhered to in Delaware County. Accordingly, it is critical to understand how a PFA case will proceed whether a party is the plaintiff or the defendant in a Delaware County PFA action.
Initiating a PFA in Delaware County
To initiate a Protection from Abuse action in Delaware County, a Petition for a PFA is required. Petitions are filed at the Delaware County Office of Judicial Support (OJS) located in Media, Pennsylvania, where the form petition package is also available.
After the Petition is completed and filed with the Office of Judicial Support, it will be given to Delaware County Court Administration for assignment of a hearing date (typically the next scheduled Protection From Abuse hearing date). If emergency relief is sought, the Petition will be sent to the Family Law Division Motions Judge for determination with regards to the emergency relief request.
Emergency relief is available on an ex parte basis from the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas or from a Magisterial District Justice if the Court of Common Pleas is not in session. If the emergency relief sought is granted, a Temporary Order will be issued which will include an exclusion from the Petitioner's residence as well as a Notice to Appear at the next scheduled Protection from Abuse list.
Regardless of the emergency relief decision, a Temporary PFA may be entered by the Motion Judge that will remain in effect until the scheduled PFA hearing. Furthermore, the Petition for a PFA will still be scheduled for a hearing even if the emergency relief and a Temporary Order are denied. (If emergency relief is sought the Petitioner must be available to meet with the Judge the same day the Petition is filed.)
The Protection from Abuse Hearing in Delaware County
The PFA list is usually scheduled on Thursdays in Courtroom 1 of the Delaware County Courthouse located in Media, Pennsylvania. The PFA Court list is typically conducted under the direction of an attorney from the Domestic Abuse Project (DAP). Upon arrival at the courtroom, private attorneys should check in with the DAP attorney.
If the parties have reached an agreement (to continue, dismiss, or any other agreement with regards to the Petition for a PFA) prior to the hearing date, counsel should inform the DAP attorney or the Legal Assistance attorney assisting counsel and/or the parties as they are checking in with the Court. The case will be assigned to the PFA Hearing Officer who will implement and place on record all settlements and/or continuances. The PFA Hearing Officer will conduct these hearings in a different hearing room simultaneous to the regular list being heard by a Judge.
When an agreement is reached, counsel should obtain the appropriate form and complete same for submittal to the PFA Hearing Officer for his or her signature. Note that if the matter is to be continued, a Special Order is required because a new hearing date must be assigned and the Temporary Order will remain in effect pending final resolution of the matter.
If there is no agreement, the case will proceed to a hearing before the Delaware County Family Court Judge with testimony often times required by the Judge during the proceeding. At the end of testimony and argument of counsel, the Judge will make a finding either granting the Protection From Abuse or denying it. After the Judge states what his or her ruling is, counsel for one of the parties is expected to draft the final order and deliver it to the Judge's staff for signature.
Following the Entry of a Final PFA Order in Delaware County
Following the entry of a Final Protection From Abuse Order, either through agreement or Court Order, the parties can receive a certified copy of the Order at the Office of Judicial Support shortly after the ruling. The protected party is strongly encouraged to wait for the certified copy at the Office of Judicial Support so he or she can provide a copy of the Final PFA to their local police department.
Although Delaware County does not have specific local rules with regards to Protection from Abuse cases, the Pennsylvania Rules governing PFA actions are strictly adhered to in Delaware County. Accordingly, it is critical to understand how a PFA case will proceed whether a party is the plaintiff or the defendant in a Delaware County PFA action.
As may expected, PFA Plaintiffs and PFA defendants will have different perspectives as to what constitutes success in a Delaware County PFA case, but regardless of which side of the courtroom a party stands, Pennsylvania PFA rules must be understood and followed in order to achieve success.
Ultimately, whether a PFA plaintiff or PFA defendant in Delaware County, parties have a small window of opportunity to have a PFA granted or dismissed. With the stakes so high for both plaintiffs and defendants, it is always best to have a highly-experienced and highly-dedicated Delaware County PFA attorney in your corner as early as possible.