In 1990, the Pennsylvania legislature passed the Protection from Abuse Act to combat domestic violence. The law allows victims of domestic violence in the state to obtain a court order protecting them from their abusers. The statute describes the process for obtaining a protection from abuse (PFA) order from the court, the provisions a court can include in a PFA, and the PFA process for the parties, police, and the court. See Pa. Stat. 23 § 6101, et seq. (2018).
To get a PFA in Pennsylvania, you must have a family or intimate relationship. PFAs aren't available for co-workers, neighbors, strangers, or others without a family relationship. Relationships that qualify for a PFA include:
- Spouses, ex-spouses, and couples who have lived as spouses
- Domestic partners and same-sex couples
- Parents and children
- Other family members related by blood or marriage, including siblings
- Current or former intimate partners, including dating relationships
- Those who have children together
Where Do FRO and Custody Hearings Happen in York County?
In York County, restraining order and custody hearings happen in the Family Division of the York County Court of Common Pleas. The courthouse is open from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.
York County Judicial Center
45 N. George Street
York, PA 17401
How Do PFAs Work in York County?
The judicial process for obtaining a PFA is similar across Pennsylvania.
In York County:
- An applicant asks the court for a temporary PFA.
- If the court issues a temporary PFA, the police will serve you with the PFA order and the date for the final hearing,
- Both parties can participate in the final PFA and introduce witnesses and evidence.
- The plaintiff must show that domestic violence occurred by a “preponderance of the evidence.”
- If the court issues a final PFA, it can remain in place for up to three years.
Can I Still See My Kids with a Protection from Abuse Order in Place?
You may be able to see your kids with a PFA in place, depending on the provisions of the PFA. If the judge believes that the PFA application has a credible allegation of abuse, the temporary PFA may prevent you from seeing your children while it's in force. However, the temporary PFA will only remain in force for about ten days or until the court resolves the final PFA hearing. If, during the final PFA hearing, the judge finds by a “preponderance of the evidence” that abuse occurred, your final PFA may also alter your custody and visitation arrangements while the PFA is in place.
How Does a Judge Determine Custody in a PFA Hearing?
In a temporary PFA order, the court may restrict your ability to see your children if they believe there is a credible allegation of abuse. The temporary order will only remain in place until the final hearing or about ten days. If the judge finds that domestic violence occurred during the final PFA hearing, the final PFA may also restrict your custody or visitation rights. The PFA will override any existing custody orders.
Under Pennsylvania law, the family court evaluating custody decisions must decide the “best interests of the child,” giving weight to safety factors. See 23 Pa.C.S. § 5328(a) (2013). The court will look at:
- Any history of abuse or domestic violence, including any ongoing threat to the child
- Whether either parent has a history of violence, crimes against children, or domestic violence
- Which parent can best provide for the child's physical safety and well-being
- Each parent's relationship with the child, including the parenting duties each party performs
- Any of the child's sibling relationships
- Which parent is best able to maintain a stable, safe, and nurturing home for the child
- Any history of drug or alcohol abuse
- Any history of mental illness
- Any other relevant factors
See id. at § 5328(b).
What Happens if I Violate a Protection from Abuse Order?
Violating a PFA in Pennsylvania is criminal contempt of court, and it is a criminal offense. If you violate the no-contact provisions of a PFA, you could face arrest, up to six months in jail, and a $1,000 fine. If you violate the custody and visitation provisions of the PFA, the plaintiff could petition for a civil contempt order, and you could face six months in jail. Moreover, any violation of a PFA will undoubtedly affect future custody decisions of the family court.
Your best options are to comply with the PFA order and consult an attorney about whether you can challenge the PFA order. Your choices may include:
- Filing a motion for reconsideration with the court within ten days of the hearing, or
- Filing an appeal with the Superior Court of Pennsylvania within 30 days.
You'll need an experienced Pennsylvania PFA litigator to assist you with this.
Can I Get Custody Back After the PFA Expires?
You may be able to regain custody or visitation after a PFA against you expires. PFAs in Pennsylvania can remain in place for up to three years. If you had custody or visitation before the PFA, you might be able to regain your parental rights once it expires. However, if you violate the PFA in any way while it's in place, the plaintiff may ask that the court renew the order. If the plaintiff attempts to renew the order, you need a skilled Pennsylvania family attorney with experience in PFA litigation to represent you in court.
Hire an Experienced PFA Attorney
If you're facing a custody dispute on top of a protection from abuse order, you need an experienced Pennsylvania family law attorney representing you in court. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped many York County families with custody disputes and PFA litigation. He can help you too. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or schedule an appointment online.