Whether you're served with a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order or thinking about filing for one, you might be confused about how these orders work and what to expect if a judge grants a PFA.
Below, you'll find the answers to some commonly asked questions about PFAs. However, as this is only general guidance, call Joseph D. Lento, an experienced PFA attorney, at 888.535.3686 for legal advice tailored to your situation.
What Is a Protection From Abuse Order?
A PFA is a type of protection order. It protects an individual from physical harm caused by another family member or household member. There are three types of PFAs in Pennsylvania:
- Emergency PFA: Emergency PFAs can be issued on weekends, evenings, and public holidays if the victim (“petitioner”) can show they're in immediate physical danger and they can't wait for the courts to reopen. Emergency PFAs only last up to a few days, but they give the petitioner time to file for a temporary PFA during business hours.
- Temporary PFA: A temporary PFA is a short-lived protection order that protects the petitioner (and any named children) for around ten days until a final hearing can be scheduled (known as a “final PFA hearing”).
- Final PFA: Final PFAs are permanent orders awarded after a final PFA hearing. They're granted if the judge believes the accused (“defendant”) is guilty of abuse as alleged by the petitioner.
Who Can Get a PFA in Pennsylvania?
You can get a PFA against someone you're in a qualifying domestic relationship with. These relationships include:
- Current or former spouses
- Children, parents, grandparents, and other blood relations
- Current or former partners (including same-sex couples)
- In-laws and other relations by marriage
- Individuals who share a biological child, e.g., your child's mother
If you're unsure whether a PFA is right for you, Joseph Lento can help.
What Constitutes Abuse for a PFA?
Section 6102(a) of the Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Act defines five different types of behavior that may constitute “abuse”:
- Knowingly or recklessly causing serious bodily harm or attempting to cause serious bodily harm (including rape and sexual assault)
- Placing someone in fear of serious bodily harm
- False imprisonment
- Physical or sexual abuse of a minor
- Repeatedly engaging in a “course of conduct” which places someone in fear of bodily injury, e.g., stalking, harassment
Put simply, someone can seek a PFA if they're the victim of physical abuse or they have reasonable grounds to believe that they're in danger of serious bodily harm.
Do PFAs Cover Emotional Abuse?
PFAs are usually granted to protect a person's physical safety. However, if there is evidence of significant psychological or emotional abuse, the judge may consider this when deciding whether to grant the order.
Can a Minor File for a PFA in PA?
Only over-18s can petition for a PFA, so minors can't file on their own behalf unless they're emancipated. However, there are two ways a minor might otherwise seek a PFA in Pennsylvania.
- The minor can ask a trusted adult, such as a parent or grandparent, to file for them.
- If the child's parent is seeking a PFA, they can include their minor children in the petition. If the court awards the PFA, it will also cover the children.
Can I Get a PFA if I Need Protection from a Neighbor or Colleague?
No – not unless you have a pre-existing qualifying relationship with your neighbor (for example, your ex-partner just moved next door and you feel physically or sexually threatened by them).
However, the Lento Law Firm can explain what other options may be open to you.
What Is the Process for Getting a Temporary or Emergency PFA?
The process normally goes as follows.
- The petitioner visits their local county courthouse and files a temporary PFA with the court.
- A judge decides, based on the petitioner's written evidence, whether to grant a temporary PFA.
- If granted, the PFA should be served on the defendant within a day or two of the judge's decision. The PFA notice should contain a hearing date which is normally in around ten days.
- Depending on the order's terms, the defendant may be required to leave their home and hand over firearms.
- At the final hearing, both parties present their arguments, and the judge decides whether to grant a final PFA. A final PFA, if awarded, lasts for up to three years.
The best thing you can do, whether you're a petitioner or defendant, is contact the Lento Law Firm the moment you're dealing with a PFA matter.
How Are Protection from Abuse Orders Served in Pennsylvania?
It's usually a sheriff or police officer who serves a Pennsylvania PFA. However, another trusted adult (or even the petitioner) could serve the defendant notice instead.
What Happens if the Authorities Can't Serve the PFA on the Defendant?
Normally, if the authorities can't locate the defendant to serve the order, the petitioner may attend the hearing date as scheduled and ask the court for more time.
What Happens if A Party Does Not Appear on the Hearing Date?
If the defendant fails to appear after receiving proper notice of the hearing date, there's a good chance the judge will issue a default judgment against them unless the petitioner also fails to appear.
Should the petitioner fail to appear, the judge may dismiss the action.
Is it Possible to Reschedule a Final PFA Hearing?
Sometimes. If you truly cannot attend the hearing date for a legitimate reason, tell your attorney immediately so they can formally request a continuance. There's no guarantee the judge will reschedule the hearing, but they may agree to set a new date if they are convinced you have a reasonable excuse for not attending.
Should an Attorney Represent Me at the Final PFA Hearing?
In most PFA matters, it's best to have an attorney's help. To ensure you follow the correct court procedures and present the strongest case, it's recommended that you hire an attorney for your final PFA hearing. Call 888.535.3686 to retain Joseph Lento.
How Do Final PFA Hearings Work?
The final PFA hearing is where the petitioner attempts to show, based on the preponderance of the evidence, that:
- An act of abuse occurred
- They were in a qualifying domestic relationship with the defendant at the time the alleged abuse occurred
Preponderance of the evidence is a lower standard of proof than “beyond reasonable doubt” – it only requires the petitioner to show that it's more likely than not, based on the evidence, that the petitioner's version of events is accurate.
The petitioner presents their arguments first, but the defendant is encouraged to attend the hearing and present their own evidence. Once the judge hears from both parties, they will either grant a final PFA or dismiss the petitioner's case.
What Evidence Is Admissible at a Final PFA Hearing in PA?
It depends on the facts of the case. However, the types of evidence you might submit include:
- Emails and text messages
- Hospital and other medical records
- Photographs of relevant injuries
- Phone records
- Police records
- Voice messages
- Witness testimony
Not all evidence is admissible; for example, it might be considered irrelevant. Your attorney will ensure you present the strongest and most relevant evidence to support your case.
When Does the Final Protection from Abuse Order Become Effective?
The final PFA becomes effective the moment the judge grants the order. So, consider it effective before you leave the courthouse.
What Are the Consequences of a Temporary or Final PFA?
Both temporary and final PFAs have serious implications for the defendant.
- The PFA may prevent you from entering the petitioner's home. If you also live at the property, this means you can't access your own home or any property within it.
- Even if you can't access the property, you could be ordered to pay the rent or mortgage payments.
- Depending on the order's terms, it might not be possible to speak with or see your children while the order is in place.
- You might still be expected to pay child support even if you have no contact with your children.
- A PFA can prevent you from attending venues where you could encounter the petitioner, such as work.
- PFAs can stop you from attending major family gatherings, including birthdays, weddings, and funerals.
- Depending on your rental agreement, you may be evicted from your apartment if there's a PFA awarded against you.
Clearly, there are grave consequences for defendants if they're subject to a temporary or permanent PFA. You should not attempt to handle a PFA alone – the Lento Law Firm will help you defend these allegations and fight to secure you the most favorable possible outcome.
Can I Appeal a Final PFA in Pennsylvania?
Yes, you can appeal a final PFA. Within ten days of the final PFA decision, you can file a “Motion for Reconsideration” asking the court to reconsider its decision to grant (or refuse) a final PFA.
This is not a chance to re-argue your case. Instead, to be successful, you must normally show that the judge wrongly applied the law or they didn't interpret the facts correctly.
You can also appeal to the Superior Court (a “Notice of Appeal”) within 30 days of the order if your first appeal fails. Again, you're only appealing on a specific point of law or fact; it's not a fresh hearing.
What Is a PFA Violation?
A PFA violation is when the defendant breaks the terms of the protection order. Examples of PFA violations include contacting the petitioner, picking up a child named on the order from daycare, and visiting the petitioner's home.
What Happens if the Defendant Violates a Protection From Abuse Order?
A PFA violation can lead to criminal contempt charges. If found guilty, the defendant faces up to 6 months' worth of probation or jail time and fines of up to $1,000.
How Long Do Final PFAs Last?
Final PFAs last up to three years. However, the petitioner can file for a renewal before the order expires if they believe it's necessary to protect their safety.
There's no limit to how many times a petitioner may file for a renewal, so in effect, a defendant could be under legal restrictions for many years. If you have any questions about a possible PFA renewal, contact the Lento Law Firm urgently for help.
What if the Petitioner Made False Allegations Against Me?
If the allegations are false, try not to panic. Remember, you can challenge the petitioner's evidence at the final PFA hearing, and you may also present your own evidence. Joseph Lento can help you defend false or exaggerated accusations, so contact him now to discuss your case.
Can the Petitioner Have the Protection from Abuse Order Changed or Dismissed Early?
Yes, the petitioner can ask the court to amend or dismiss the order if it's no longer required.
- The petitioner must set out, in writing, what changes they wish to make (or if they want to cancel the order).
- The judge will consider the evidence and determine if the changes are in the petitioner's best interests.
- If the judge finds that the defendant coerced or pressured the petitioner into making the changes, or if they feel the changes put the petitioner at risk, they will refuse the petitioner's request.
What Happens if a Final PFA Is Canceled?
A judge may cancel a PFA if the petitioner can show that they will be safe without the order's protection. The judge will not cancel the order, though, if they believe the petitioner is still at risk.
When the court cancels a PFA, the order – and the restrictions imposed upon the defendant – ends.
What Happens if a Final PFA Is Dismissed?
PFAs are dismissed when the petitioner fails to show either that the abuse occurred or that they have a qualifying domestic relationship with the defendant.
If a PFA is dismissed, it's no longer enforceable, and any orders associated with it – such as custody restrictions – fall away.
Can I Get Another Final PFA Against the Same Defendant Later?
If the court dismisses a PFA, the petitioner can request another order. However, unless the facts have changed and the petitioner can prove new abuse allegations, it's unlikely that the court will grant the PFA.
If the petitioner asks the court to cancel a PFA, they can seek a further PFA against the same defendant in the future. However, the judge may consider the previously canceled PFA when deciding if a further order is necessary.
What if Both Parties Reconcile?
It's not uncommon for petitioners to decide they want to reconcile with the other party. If you wish to contact the defendant, though, you must not do so until the final PFA ends.
The terms of a PFA are still legally binding on a defendant until such time as the order expires or the court cancels it, so any communication between parties could be considered a violation.
Are Final Protection From Abuse Orders Public Record?
While they won't appear during routine background checks, they do appear in a statewide database accessible by the police. They'll also appear in the case files of whichever court heard the final PFA hearing.
It's possible for defendants to ask the court to “seal” the record from public view; however, defendants can only request this if the following conditions are met:
- The last PFA expired ten years ago
- There are no charges of crimes such as domestic violence against the defendant
- The defendant did not violate the PFA
- There are no other PFAs against the defendant
Can Employers See PFAs Against Me?
As PFAs don't appear during regular background checks, your employer won't automatically know about a PFA against you. However, there are exceptions to this.
Some employers are required by federal law to perform more in-depth background checks. This affects you if you're working in fields such as law enforcement or the military.
If your job requires security clearance, you are legally obliged to disclose a PFA to your employer. And if you're in a profession with licensing requirements such as law or medicine, you may be obliged to report PFAs against you – even if they're only emergency or temporary orders.
Consequences of Failing to Disclose PFAs
It may be considered a criminal offense to fail to disclose a PFA when you're obliged to do so. Even if it's not a criminal offense, it could result in harsh penalties such as a license suspension or revocation.
Do PFAs Appear on My Criminal Record?
No. PFAs are not criminal orders, so they will not appear on your criminal record unless you are convicted of a PFA violation (which is a criminal offense).
Will a PFA Affect My Immigration Status?
You will not automatically be deported just because you're facing a PFA. However, a PFA violation could make it harder for you to renew your visa should you wish to do so.
Your visa status may also be affected if you're convicted of a criminal offense such as domestic violence. And some crimes, such as rape and sexual abuse of a minor child, can be deportable offenses, so depending on the severity of the charges against you, it's possible you will face deportation.
Is a Military Career Open to Me if I'm Subject to a PFA?
Unfortunately, PFAs can significantly limit your chances of pursuing a military career, depending on the type of role you wish to pursue. For example, if you're prohibited from owning or possessing firearms under the terms of the PFA, you can't carry firearms during professional duties.
If you're already in the military, PFAs don't automatically mean you will be discharged, but they can affect your prospects.
How Do PFAs Affect Other Jobs?
PFAs – even temporary orders – can significantly disrupt your career. For example, if you work with children or you're in a position of trust over others, your employer may be uncomfortable allowing you to continue working in the same capacity if there's a PFA against you.
PFAs can also have less obvious consequences.
- A PFA can prevent you from accessing your home to collect property such as a work uniform, laptop, or paperwork
- If both parties work at the same company, the PFA may prevent the defendant from being on the premises while the petitioner is working
- Your employer may be reluctant to give you more responsibilities at work if you receive a final PFA
Do Final PFAs Affect My Right to Own Firearms?
Yes – final PFAs will usually interfere with your right to own, buy, or carry a firearm. You will normally be expected to relinquish any firearms you currently own, and you may be prohibited from buying or possessing other firearms until the order expires.
Once the order is dismissed or expires, you can reclaim your guns unless you're dealing with certain criminal charges or convictions, such as a domestic violence conviction.
Temporary PFAs and Gun Ownership
If you're facing a temporary PFA, judges often require that you hand over any firearms possession until the final PFA hearing takes place. It may be possible for your attorney to demonstrate why it is unnecessary for you to hand over firearms; however, judges often exercise caution and insist upon firearm relinquishment at this stage.
Are Final PFAs Enforceable in Other States?
Yes. Any protection order granted in one of the 50 US states can be enforced in other states. So, the authorities in another state can enforce a Pennsylvania PFA, just as the authorities in PA can enforce a protective order granted in another state.
Contact a PFA Attorney in PA | Lento Law Firm
Protection from Abuse (PFA) orders can have significant consequences for the victim, the accused, and their families. Although there's no requirement for an attorney to represent you at a PFA hearing, it's strongly recommended that you hire a lawyer to help you through the process.
As an experienced PFA attorney in PA, Joseph D. Lento is ready and waiting to help you achieve the fairest outcome possible in your PFA case. Call him now at 888.535.3686 or leave him an online message to find out how he can help.